New Delhi: One of the eight Namibian cheetahs brought to India last September died Monday at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The cheetah’s death due to kidney ailments was likely brought on by diet while in captivity, an expert has said.
The cheetah, who was five-years-old at the time of translocation and nicknamed “Sasha”, was found to be suffering from a kidney infection in January after a blood test revealed high creatinine levels, said a press statement issued by the Madhya Pradesh forest department Monday.
Indian authorities, the statement added, obtained records of her health from Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) — the organisation that supplied the cheetahs to India — which “confirmed Sasha was suffering from kidney disease since August 2022 before she came to India”.
Expert veterinarian Adrian Tordiffe told ThePrint, “She (Sasha) probably had undetected kidney damage when she was still in Namibia. She had spent most of her life in captivity there. The cause is likely due to her diet in captivity in Namibia.” Tordiffe is a South Africa-based cheetah expert and veterinarian consulting with the translocation project.
“We did analyze blood samples for the South African cheetahs on the day that they were loaded for the transport to India. Their results were all normal,” said Tordiffe.
However, a fact sheet shared by the Cheetah Conservation Fund in September had stated that Sasha was malnourished and skinny when she was first found in 2017, and lived in the CCF center from 2018 onwards after local farm workers “nursed her back to health”.
A press note issued by CCF at the time of the cheetahs’ translocation last year had said the eight big cats were chosen “based on an assessment of health, wild disposition, hunting skills, and ability to contribute genetics that will result in a strong founder population”.
A senior member of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) claimed the history of Sasha’s illness was only brought to light after the problem was diagnosed in India. “Kidney-related ailments in cheetahs are a problem. The female cheetah had a history which was disclosed later by the CCF Namibia only when we had diagnosed the problem. She was doing fine but the ailment beyond a point is fatal,” the official said.
ThePrint reached a CCF spokesperson for comment via WhatsApp but did not receive a response by the time of publication. This report will be updated when a response is received.
The cheetah translocation project has been widely criticised by a section of conservationists who say the costs outweigh the benefits of trying to establish a free-ranging cheetah population in India, where the species went extinct in 1952.
Last month, India imported another set of 12 cheetahs from South Africa.
Sasha’s death brings the tally of cheetahs in the country to 19.
“Sadly, Sasha succumbed to renal failure. She was under the care of Project Cheetah veterinarians for a few months, so this was not unexpected. Kidney disease and renal failure are a problem for all cats, but this can be especially bad for cheetahs, which are by nature delicate creatures,” Dr Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of CCF, said in a statement Monday.
(This is an updated version of the report)
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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