India welcomes back Cheetah

VK Bahuguna

September 21, 2022, 12:48:02   

India welcomes back Cheetah

(The author was former Director-General  ICFRE in the Ministry of Environment & Forest Government of India)
The 17th September 2022 will be remembered as a special historical day in the annals of forest conservation in India. It was 70 years after the last of surviving Cheetah was killed by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya estate in Madhya Pradesh (now in Chhattisgarh) in the year 1947 when he was reported to have killed there Cheetahs.The government of India’s forestry wing in the Agriculture Ministry in 1952 officially declared that Cheetahs have become extinct in the Country. In bringing Cheetahs back with deft diplomacy theIndian governance under the leadership of Prime Minister had shown that we have the grit and resolve to get back our lost heritage in spite of such a large population of humans and climatic crisis we faceThe Prime Minister soon after returning from attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization released the first batch of eight Cheetahs on 17th September 2022 in Kuno National Park of Madhya Pradeshand thereby made history to be cheered by all Indians on his birth day by giving this wonderful gift to the nation. Initially the Cheetahs will be quarantined for few days in an enclosure and gradually released in larger fenced area and into the forests ultimately. The forest department officers and other experts shall be continuously monitoring their behaviours. 

The release of Cheetahs is significant not only from the point of view of conservation of wildlife but it gives a signal to the world that it has also demonstrated the ethos of civilizational message for the world as how to bring back the lost heritage of bio-diversity and celebrate the co-existence of  all life forms on earth. The Prime Minister while addressing the nation after the release of the Cheetahs, appealed for patience from the public before visiting Cheetahs It is also a proud moment for the much maligned Indian Forest Service (IFS) which has been using the acronym IFS for over more than a century for getting back a priceless species it conserved against all odds before it went extinct due to the false notion of bravery by hunting with guns by the misguided Royals. Royals are remembered for bringing intact Indian arts, music and architecture and other cultural sinages of India despite one thousand years of foreign rule but also contributed unrestrained hunting of Tigers and other wild animals. 

The Cheetah is the most charismatic, beautiful and fastest animal in the world. The cheetah is capable of acceleratingup to 120 kilometres per hour in just over three seconds. At top speed, their stride is 23 feet long which makes them fearsome hunters. The Male and Female
Cheetah live differently. The Male siblings move in a group of two to three or even more and this is called coalition which lasts for the life and protect their territory well, while the Female Cheetah lives alone and meets the Male only during mating time. Cheetahs do not pose much challenge for humans and many Royals and others used to rear them and used them for hunting. Unlike other Cats they do not roar but meow or purr.

However, after this release of Cheetahs in Kuno the real challenge to the foresters has begun in order to see if we can replicate the success of Tiger conservation for Cheetah also. We have to understand  vulnerability of the world of survival of these carnivores. The Cheetah became extinct due to indiscriminate hunting and shrinking of its natural habitat. It thrives in grassland and in India the saddest part is that we have never given focus on grass land conservation. Now there are as usual Nay Sayers and armchair environmental critics who argue that bringing African Cheetah is a bad idea. Today if Cheetah can find a new home akin to their home territory there is nothing wrong in it from the point of view of bio-diversity conservation. After all the migration of animals and plants from one geographic area to another had routinely happened during the evolutionary process. 

Now the question is what lies ahead for the forest professionals. First, the real test of re-introduction will happen when these eight Cheetahs adapt to new home and start hunting and live in a natural style of their own so that the next batch of Cheetah can be brought here. The good things about Kuno is that it has good prey base for them to survive. The Second, issue is how the local people will see this introduction in future in terms of protection of their habitats. The Madhya Pradesh government had already relocated twenty four villages and the forest department though had made adequate precautions for their protection and movements and had made arrangements for 24 hours vigilance but they will have to see that the tree climbing leopard do not enter their territory. The leopard hunt by ambush but Cheetah do not have retractable claws and hunt for a particular type of prey like medium sized antelopes, hares, calves of herd animals, birds with their speed and sudden galloping gait. The Third, is to involve the local people and scientific community from the Wild Life Institute and Universities in the conservation process with liberal research and training grants. The Fourth, and perhaps the most important is to ensure the poachers are kept at bay and for this forest department at field level must possess best of the equipment’s. 

The Central as well as the Madhya Pradesh Governments therefore, will have to plan a long term strategy for the Cheetah conservation in India so that in next few years the population of the Cheetahs can grow. The situation of man power from forest guard to ranger level and infrastructure needs a review. We must understand that the man power of forest department and infrastructure like superior weapons and other modern gadgets are no match for the superior equipments the poachers are having these days.It will be special challenge for the Park Director because Cheetah breeding requires proper attention and resources. A “Project Cheetah Scheme” need to be started on the pattern of Project Tiger. This introduction of Cheetah is not only a time to rejoice but to take some drastic reforms in the sector and the Director- General of Forests must discuss with the Prime Minster because this is the best time forest management can hope to make changes as the Prime Minister is keen to ensure changes. On Cheetah introduction the policy makers must remember the message of Dr Laurie Marker of Cheetah Conservation Fund “The problem is not with Predators. The problem is with us humans. We have to change the way we think and behave”.