This weekend, the second batch of African cheetahs will be joining the eight felines who were shipped to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park last year as part of a landmark project that reintroduced the big cat seven decades after it went extinct in India.
The group of seven males and five females will fly down from South Africa on Saturday, announced Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav.
“A C-17 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) left the country this morning to bring the 12 cheetahs from South Africa. Ten quarantine enclosures have been created at the Kuno National Park for the felines,” the minister said on Thursday.
In South Africa, three of the cheetahs have been kept in Phinda quarantine boma in KwaZulu-Natal province and nine in Rooiberg quarantine boma in Limpopo province. They will embark on the journey to Kuno from the O R Tambo International Airport in Gauteng on Friday evening.
S P Yadav, head, Project Cheetah, said the big cats will arrive at the Gwalior Air Force base at 10 am on Saturday and from there they will then be ferried in IAF’s MI-17 helicopters. “A delegation of experts, veterinarians and senior officials will be accompanying the cheetahs in the intercontinental translocation,” he said.
According to the “Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India” prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India, around 12-14 wild cheetahs that are ideal for establishing a new population would be imported from South Africa, Namibia and other African countries as a founder stock for five years initially.
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“Following the import of 12 cheetahs in February, the plan is to translocate 12 cheetahs annually for the next eight to 10 years. The terms of the MoU will be reviewed every five years to ensure it remains relevant,” the environment ministry said.
Under the ambitious reintroduction plan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released eight Namibian cheetahs — five females and three males — into a quarantine enclosure at the Kuno National Park on his 72nd birthday on September 17.
Yadav said all the cheetahs had adapted well to their surroundings in Kuno. “All cheetahs are keeping well except one called Sasha, who fell ill but is now doing fine,” he said.
A monitoring team is expected to soon take a call on releasing the eight existing cheetahs into the wild.
The project also plans to introduce additional prey in the larger enclosures, where the cheetahs were moved to after an initial stay in quarantine enclosures.
“The ministry is taking the matter seriously and following the standard operating procedure (SOP) for dealing with the death of a tiger,” Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav told Business Standard.
S P Yadav, additional director general, Project Tiger, said every tiger death is considered an act of poaching until proven otherwise. “All deaths are dealt with according to the SOP issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The field directors are trying to ascertain the cause of death.”
The 26 deaths were recorded between January 1 and February 11, the highest number of big cat fatalities at the start of a year in the past three seasons. NTCA data accessed by Business Standard shows that 18 tigers had died in the corresponding period last year while 21 deaths were reported in the same time span in 2021.
Madhya Pradesh has reported the maximum deaths (9) this year, followed by Maharashtra (7), Rajasthan (3), Karnataka (2), Uttarakhand (2), and one each in Assam, Bihar and Kerala.