Delayed by over a decade, the government’s plans to reintroduce cheetah into the Indian wildlife is likely to gain pace as an Indian team heads to African Savannah for the first set of basic training in July. The team will learn about handling the cheetah population set to be relocated to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park by the end of the year. Kuno is about 2 hours distance from Gwalior.
Speaking to IndiaToday.in, Prakash Kumar Verma, district forest officer, Kuno National Park, said that the training had been delayed due to the ongoing second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “The India team is likely to go to Africa to learn about handling, breeding, rehabilitation, medical treatment and conservation of the animal once the Covid-led situation normalises and the lockdown is further eased by next month,” Verma said.
The team is likely to be comprised of members from the Wildlife Institute of India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, doctors and veterinarian from the Kuna national park along with the staff that will take care of the cheetahs once they are relocated to the sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
During the first phase of the training, the Indian team will visit the Savannah, the natural habitat of the African cheetah, and get a feel of the environment in the open grasslands where the animal preys in its natural habitat. “Following the completion of the training, a team from Africa will visit Kuno and train the team further with respect to the local geography and Indian requirements,” Verma added.
A decade-long project
Dubbed as the first such project where a large carnivore is being relocated across continents, the project has faced several hurdles since its inception in 2009. The Asiatic cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952 after Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo shot the last offspring of the species in 1947.
Considered among the top predators, with African cheetah relocation, the government aims to restore the threatened ecosystem and conserve the species in India.
The Supreme Court had initially denied permission for the massive movement. However, in January 2020, while hearing a petition filed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the apex court directed to choose the habitat carefully after examining if the animal can adapt to Indian conditions.
Upgraded in 2018, the Kuno National Park is spread over an area of over 750 square kilometres. With a population of Chinkara, Spotted Deer and Blackbuck, on which the carnivores would prey, the area was found most conducive for the relocation. Officials in the national park have been working to create an environment conducive to African Cheetah.
The relocation is one of the biggest pilot projects in Indian wildlife conservation in the new decade.