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Cheetah Reintroduction- Is the Project Failing?

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In an unprecedented and ambitious initiative, India recently undertook the project of reintroducing cheetahs in its ecosystem. After becoming extinct in the region around 1952, the world’s fastest land animals are once again seen in India’s grasslands. However, the project has faced numerous challenges and criticism, raising questions about the viability of reintroducing an extinct species.

This topic of “Cheetah Reintroduction- Is the Project Failing?” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Cheetah Extinction in India: A Retrospective View

In 1947, the last cheetahs in India were recorded in the Sal forests of Chhattisgarh state. By 1952, cheetahs were declared extinct in India, primarily due to large-scale animal capture, bounty and sport hunting, habitat modification, and prey base reduction. The recent project aims to reintroduce African cousins of the Asiatic cheetahs that once roamed India’s grasslands.

Cheetah Reintroduction: The Beginning

Project Objectives: An Overview

The cheetah introduction project has several lofty goals:

  • To establish a viable cheetah metapopulation that allows the cheetah to perform its functional role as a top predator.
  • To allow the cheetah to expand within its historic range, contributing to global conservation efforts.
  • To raise funds for restoring open forest and savanna systems using the cheetah as a flagship and umbrella species.
  • To ensure opportunities for eco-development and eco-tourism, enhancing local community livelihoods.

Arrival of Cheetahs

India received its first batch of cheetahs in an Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster aircraft. The eight cheetahs from Namibia were reintroduced to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Another 12 cheetahs from South Africa arrived subsequently, marking a significant milestone in the reintroduction process. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over the release of the first arrivals, underlining the project’s importance.

The Action Plan

The government’s ‘Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India’ intended to restore the nation’s pride of hosting the majestic cheetah. However, despite the best of plans and intentions, the project experienced setbacks due to the sudden and unexpected deaths of eight cheetahs. This led to concerns over the project’s management, eventually causing the removal of the top wildlife official in Madhya Pradesh.

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Challenges and Concerns

Mortality of the Translocated Cheetahs

Out of the total number of cheetahs reintroduced, eight cheetahs died within four months, including five translocated animals and three of the four cubs born post-arrival. Despite the wildlife authorities attributing the deaths to natural causes, questions were raised over the project’s execution and management.

The Controversy over Radio Collars

The project faced allegations of using sub-standard radio collars that may have contributed to the cheetah deaths. These claims were refuted by the government citing the lack of scientific evidence. One cheetah, Suraj, was reported to have a maggot-infested wound on his neck, which was speculated to be due to the radio collar.

Expert Opinions and Reactions

Many experts have raised concerns over the project’s feasibility. Wildlife conservationists assert that fundamental issues were ignored while planning the project. They believed that India lacks the expansive grassland habitats required by cheetahs and other necessary ecological conditions, implying that the project was bound to fail. However, the environment ministry maintained that it was too soon to judge the project’s success or failure as cheetah reintroduction is a long-term venture.

Way Forward

To ensure the project’s success, it is essential to heed expert advice and take necessary steps:

  • Address the mortality rate of cheetahs by closely monitoring their health and adapting more appropriate veterinary care.
  • Consider the ecological conditions necessary for the survival and growth of cheetahs in India, especially the availability of expansive grasslands.
  • Ensure the quality of tools and accessories used for tracking and monitoring the animals to prevent harm or discomfort.
  • Ensure transparent communication with all stakeholders, including international experts involved in the project.

Conclusion

The project of reintroducing cheetahs in India is ambitious and promising. However, it has faced multiple setbacks that raise questions about its viability and effectiveness. With lessons learned from the early phases of the project, India has the potential to overcome the challenges, fulfilling its goal of becoming home once again to the majestic cheetah. This project is not just about reintroducing a species; it symbolizes India’s commitment to global conservation efforts and the preservation of biodiversity. Thus, it is crucial to ensure its success, for the cheetahs and for the world.

Practice Question for Mains

What are the challenges faced by the cheetah reintroduction project? What can be done about it? (250 words)

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