Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav has confirmed that the translocation of African cheetahs to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh is expected to culminate in September. Yadav told the The Indian Express that all formalities with Namibia have been completed and the cheetahs were being prepped for the translocation. Eight cheetahs are expected from Namibia and Indian government is trying for another 12 from South Africa.
“The process of bringing the cheetahs from Namibia has already started. There were some issues with site development which have been addressed. We are waiting for the monsoon to recede at Kuno and once that happens, the cheetahs will be brought in,’’ said the Union minister.
Yadav further said that “all formalities from India’s end to bring the cheetah from South Africa were complete”. While the Indian government was targeting the arrival of the cheetahs in August, ministry sources say there was no “fixed date’’ for the translocation and that “the process is on track”.
“Of course, we have to bring cheetahs that can hunt in the wild, there are no captive cheetahs in Namibia. Breeding cheetahs in captivity is against the law in Namibia,’’ said a ministry source, adding that all approvals, except for the nod from South African President, for translocation of cheetahs to India have been procured. Ministry sources say that Presidential assent is a must for the purpose.
However, cheetahs in Namibia as well as South Africa have already been prepped – including their vaccination, blood tests, radio collaring, etc.
“We are getting this batch of eight cheetahs. The cheetahs in both the countries were identified six months ago and none have been rejected since. The health of cheetahs is crucial…a cheetah with a disease will not be translocated. Over the next 3-4 years, we will acquire 50 cheetahs,’’ said a senior ministry official.
The site development at the Kuno National Park is in its last stages. Two sites have been identified for construction of helipads, of which one is inside the 6-square-km quarantine site where the cheetahs will be kept for first 30 days. The cheetahs will be flown to an airport nearest to Kuno and then airlifted in helicopters to the park helipads, an official said.
“Usually rains in Kuno abate by July-end, but monsoon has been erratic this year and the season has prolonged, delaying the process. We are also combing the quarantine area using elephants to sanitise it against presence of jackals, leopards or wild dogs. We will also be releasing 700 herbivores, including black bucks, cheetal and sambhal in a week or so — the prey base for cheetahs,’’ said the official.
In an earlier interview with The Indian Express, South African Veterinary Wildlife Specialist Prof Adrian Tordiffe of the University of Pretoria, which has partnered with WII and NTCA for the cheetah project, had said that the translocation project is mutually beneficial for Africa and India. The cheetah population in South African had started dwindling two decades ago, before the conservation programme was launched that increased their number to 500. Now, South Africa is running out of space for cheetahs, he said.
“There are no new reserves where they can be kept. And with a genetically healthy population, the numbers are growing even within these comparatively small private reserves. If this continues, the cheetah will decimate the prey in these areas. And we may need to start using contraceptives to control their population. We need to look at cheetahs’ global population, a metapopulation, instead of breaking them into fragments of small species – which, I think, is a terrible idea, especially when the genetic difference between the African and Indian cheetahs is so small, and the ecological functions are practically the same,’’ said Prof Tordiffe.