India will be welcoming the fastest animal on land - the Cheetah, a mammal that has gone extinct in the Indian subcontinent long back in 1952 due to extensive hunting. It is believed that the Maharajah of Koriya (Chattisgarh) has killed the last male Cheetah in 1947 when he had gone out to hunting, just one of his recreational activities. The last female Cheetah was spotted in 1951-52 after which the Government of India declared the feline species as extinct.
Now, after almost seven decades, the GOI is planning to bring Cheetah back to Indian landmass. Recently, the Supreme Court gave permission to National Tiger Conservation Authority to introduce Cheetah in India, while also prescribing that it should be done on an “experimental basis” in carefully chosen habitats to determine its adaptability in the Indian conditions.
There are talks with Namibia, a country in South-West Africa, where vast deserts kisses the coldest ocean, and which is also home to a substantial number of African Cheetah.
Earlier in 1970s, India had also held contacts with Iran which is the only country left with Asiatic Cheetah, a sub-species that was familiar to India, but no more in existence. However, the deal did not get through. Today, the count of Asiatic Cheetah has been reduced to between 40 and 50 in Iran, hence the sub-species falls under ‘Critically endangered’ category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Indian Government realised that it would not be possible to bring back Asiatic Cheetah, and therefore decided to go for African Cheetah. This particular sub-species is categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by IUCN, and its total population is around 7000 in the entire African continent.
Following the Supreme Court’s orders, the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun has begun its hunt for the habitat that would be most suitable for Cheetah. Its team of experts has visited a total of 5 locations in India, which are, Shahgarh area of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Kuno Palpur sanctuary, Nauradehi sanctuary, Gandhi Sagar sanctuary and Madhav National park - all of these in Madhya Pradesh.
The introduction of Cheetah will mean that India will be only country in Asia that is home to all kinds of big cats and that would be something to boast about.
The state located in the central region of India not only is an area with suitable conditions but also has a glorious record when it comes to conservation of big cats. Under the Project Tiger, several National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuary are now safe home to Bengal Tigers in Madhya Pradesh. Also, the environmentalists and wildlife experts have proposed to shift some of the Asiatic lions of Gir, Gujarat to these wildlife homes in Madhya Pradesh, although, the Gujarat Government has always refused to entertain such ideas as it prefers to keep the title of ‘the only home for Asiatic lions in the world’ exclusive to the state of Gujarat.
This has brought some criticism from wildlife activists and experts who believe that the focus should be on saving Asiatic lions first as their population is under serious threat in any case of epidemic. In fact, last year 24 lions died due to spread of Canine Distemper Virus infection. Moreover, 204 lions, and 331 leopards have died in Gujarat in last 3 years.
According to wildlife activists, the quest to introduce African Cheetah to India is unnecessary as there are several other species like Asiatic lion, the Great Indian Bustard, the Indian Wolf, and the Caracal which demand attention for the matter of their survival.
On the other hand, some experts have hailed this attempt of introducing African Cheetah to India as they believe that it will be great for the country’s grassland ecosystem; a kind of ecosystem that has been craving for some attention.
Additionally, India now has all the financial capabilities and resources to embark on such a wildlife conservation programme. Plus, there are a lot of similarities between African and Asiatic Cheetah, and thus India will prove to be suitable habitat for the foreign big cat.
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