The Centre Thursday told the Supreme Court that no officials including members of the court-appointed committee have any experience in cheetah management in India as the animal went extinct from the country in 1947-48.
It said the Centre and state governments through exchange visits, study tours, capacity building and training programs with African countries have trained significant number of forest officials and veterinarians who have experience of working with African wildlife species including cheetahs.
Some of these officials and veterinarians are actively involved in implementation of Project Cheetah in India, it added.
"It is noteworthy to mention that cheetah went extinct from India in year 1947-48 and because of the absence of species from the country none of the officials including the members of the expert committee (contrary to their claim of being an expert in Cheetah) appointed by this court had management experience in Cheetah in India," the Centre said in its affidavit.
A bench of justices BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol took the affidavit filed by Santosh Singh, Assistant Inspector General of Forests (AIGF) in National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on behalf of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on record, which was filed pursuant to its direction issued on March 28.
On March 28, a day after the first death of cheetah at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh, the top court had sought details of experts in the Cheetah Task Force such as their qualification and experience.
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Giving the details, the Centre said that soon after cheetah introduction in India from Namibia in September 2022, the ministry constituted a task force for monitoring cheetah introduction in KNP and other suitable designated areas.
It gave details of the members along with their qualification and experience and terms of reference of the task force.
"It is pertinent to mention, that the members of task force includes administrative officers, forest officers and scientists who have diverse experience in field of administration, forestry and wildlife management. As introduction of cheetah is being viewed in a holistic way where in long run it will have impact on various facets of society including socio economic aspects apart from forestry and wildlife management," it said.
The Centre said wildlife management practices in India are considered one of the premier in the world and it is evident from the fact that India harbours largest population of wild tigers, Asiatic lions, Asiatic Elephants and one-horned rhinoceros the species which are either extinct or facing severe threat in their other range countries.
"That keeping in view of the successful implementation of project Cheetah, the government of India and government of Madhya Pradesh have sent officers/ veterinarians /scientists for training and exposure visits to Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania for first hand experience on management of Cheetahs and other wildlife," it said, adding that in the meeting of task force, cheetah experts from African countries are also regularly invited as member invitee and decisions regarding management of Cheetah are taken in consultation with these experts in the best interest of species.
The government said this entire exercise of cheetah introduction has been carried out under the expert guidance and supervision of international cheetah experts, scientists, veterinarians, forest officials and NTCA in consultation with the committee appointed by this court.
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