In the inaugural year of cheetahs’ reintroduction in India, the journey has witnessed both challenges and achievements, but the project remains steadfast, as confirmed by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, based in Namibia.
The CCF has provided extensive support to Indian authorities in the endeavor to reintroduce cheetahs to India. Laurie Marker, the founder of CCF, played a pivotal role in formulating reintroduction plans and has made numerous visits to India since 2009.
“Reintroducing cheetahs to India was an audacious undertaking, replete with obstacles. We celebrated the birth of a litter of four cubs born to a Namibian female and the arrival of 12 cheetahs from South Africa. Despite setbacks that necessitated a temporary retrieval of the animals, we are utilizing these experiences to reevaluate our strategies before the cheetahs are reintroduced,” stated Marker.
Peter Katjavivi, Namibia’s Speaker of the National Assembly and CCF’s International Patron, affirmed, “The project remains on course, and Namibia takes pride in contributing to the expansion of cheetah territory in India.”
Though the initial year of the historic cheetah reintroduction in India faced challenges, the Project Cheetah team remains dedicated to its mission, the statement noted.
Project Cheetah, India’s ambitious initiative to bring back cheetahs after their extinction in the country, marks its first anniversary this Sunday.
The initiative commenced on September 17 last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a group of cheetahs imported from Namibia into an enclosure at Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park. Conservationists and experts worldwide have closely monitored the project since its inception.
A total of twenty cheetahs were transported from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno in two separate batches, one in September last year and the other in February.
Since March, six of these adult cheetahs have succumbed to various causes. In May, three out of the four cubs born to a Namibian female cheetah perished due to extreme heat. The remaining cub is under human care for future reintroduction.
SP Yadav, the head of Project Cheetah, revealed that one of the significant challenges encountered in the first year of managing cheetahs in India was the unexpected development of winter coats by some cheetahs during the Indian summer and monsoon, in anticipation of the African winter (June to September).
He explained that the winter coat, coupled with high humidity and temperatures, led to itching, prompting the animals to scratch their necks against tree trunks or the ground. This resulted in bruises and exposed skin, attracting flies that laid eggs, causing maggot infestations, and eventually leading to bacterial infections and septicemia, ultimately resulting in death.
“As soon as we identified this issue, our veterinarians took immediate action. All animals were relocated to enclosures and received preventive medication. Now, they are all in good health. This experience has provided valuable insights for the next year, and we will be well-prepared to handle such situations,” said the senior forest official.
While awaiting re-release, the CCF has offered guidance and new strategies to ensure the successful reintegration of these magnificent creatures into their natural habitat.
Despite the challenges, there have been numerous positive outcomes, including confirmation that the reintroduced cheetahs are hunting native prey species, as highlighted by the CCF.
Notably, two female cheetahs, previously captured in the wild and having spent time in captivity in Namibia, have successfully adapted to the Indian wilderness and are independently hunting.
“As part of the rewilding process post-release, they have displayed promising signs and will be suitable for release into the wild following thorough evaluation,” stated the CCF.
Importantly, there have been no instances of human-wildlife conflict, and the communities surrounding Kuno National Park have warmly embraced the presence of cheetahs in their vicinity.
The cheetahs face considerable threats from other predators such as hyenas and leopards, yet the coexistence of leopards has not hindered the cheetahs’ reintroduction into their former habitat, the statement concluded.