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African cheetah to be reintroduced in India 70 years after it was declared extinct in the country

Only 7100 cheetahs are left in the wild, of which almost all are in Africa.

African cheetah to be reintroduced in India 70 years after it was declared extinct in the country
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

Efforts are currently underway to re-introduce African cheetahs to India, 70 years after it was declared extinct in the country. The Supreme Court in January gave its approval to introduce the species to suitable habitat in the South Asian country on an experimental basis to find out if it could adapt to Indian conditions. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), cheetahs are an endangered species, reports BBC. Only 7100 cheetahs are left in the wild, of which almost all are in Africa. Meanwhile, the Asiatic cheetah — which once roamed parts of India — is now only found in Iran where there are only about 50 are believed to be left.




The cheetah was declared extinct from India in 1952, reports FirstPost, after it was essentially hunted to extinction. According to studies, at least 200 cheetahs are believed to have been killed — mostly by sheep and goat herders — in India during the colonial period. It is the only large mammal to become extinct after the country gained independence in 1947 and wildlife officials, cheetah experts, and conservationists from all over the world have long been discussing the prospect of reintroducing the spotted big cat to India.




While many have agreed that there is a strong case for it, some leading conservationists have harbored doubts about the execution of the same. They've voiced concerns that in its haste to bring back the animal, India might house them in semi-captive conditions in huge, secured open-air zoos rather than the ideal case of allowing them to live free in the wild. Without restoring habitat and prey base and taking into account the high chances of a man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations cannot be successfully established, said those in opposition to the plan. They also pointed out India's chequered record of reintroducing animals to the wild.




However, conservationists who have led the initiative insist that there is nothing to worry about and that a decision will only be taken after shortlisted sites are fully examined to address all these concerns. And they seem to be keeping their word as earlier this month, experts from the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India reportedly visited four places in Madhya Pradesh to look for the best habitat for the reintroduction of cheetah in the country. A senior forest official revealed that the WII team visited the Kuno Palpur sanctuary in MP's Sheopur district, the Nauradehi sanctuary in Sagar district, the Gandhi Sagar sanctuary on the northern boundary of Mandsaur and Neemuch districts, and the Madhav National Park in Shivpuri district to determine their viability for the initiative.




"WII's faculty of wildlife science dean Dr. Y V Jhala and two other scientists inspected the four places to evaluate whether these habitats are conducive for cheetahs," said Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, wildlife wing, J S Chauhan. "Madhya Pradesh had in the past been home to cheetahs. The state has a long conservation history; we have the habitat. We also have a successful trans-location record," he added, referring to the tiger reintroduction program in the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) in 2009.




"For the cheetah re-introduction, many things stand in our favor. We have already written to the central government that we are very much interested [in the plan]," said Chauhan. India's former environment minister Jairam Ramesh welcomed the decision to reintroduce the animal in the country, tweeting: "Delighted that Supreme Court has just given OK to reintroducing cheetah from Namibia. This was something I had initiated 10 years ago. Cheetah which derives from the Sanskrit 'chitra' (speckled) is the only mammal hunted to extinction in modern India."



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