New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday allowed the introduction of African Cheetahs to a suitable habitat in India.
The apex court had earlier declined permission to introduce the animal, calling it a “foreign species”.
In Tuesday’s order, the top court said the animal could be brought to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary or any other part of India after a detailed study.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde was hearing a petition filed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) seeking permission for the introduction of African Cheetah from Namibia.
An intervention application was also filed by the central government this year to introduce the animal in India.
India’s last spotted cheetah died in 1947 and the animal was declared extinct in the country in 1952.
The apex court’s order also states that NTCA will be guided by an expert panel, comprising wildlife experts M.K. Ranjitsinh, Dhananjai Mohan and the DIG (wildlife) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The court will monitor the project and the panel will submit a report before it every four months.
A decade-long case
The NTCA had first filed a plea in 2010 requesting permission to introduce African Cheetahs from Namibia as the animal has become extinct in India. But the top court declined permission for it in 2013, calling the animal a “foreign species”.
On 22 February 2019, the NTCA had told the apex court that African Cheetahs to be translocated to India from Namibia will be kept at the Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
The authority also said the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which provides inputs to governments and institutions on biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development, has given no objection for the translocation process. The IUCN, it had informed the court, has agreed to cooperate in translocating the animals.
The NTCA had also told the court that it was only seeking a clarification on whether there was a blanket ban on re-introduction of cheetahs to the country. The body had referred to the apex court’s 2013 decision in a wildlife case and said it does not prevent authorities from taking steps in conformity with the law to relocated cheetahs from Africa, to suitable sites in India.
In August 2019, a bench of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice B.R. Gavai had wondered as how the court would know if cheetahs would survive, after senior advocate Wasim Qadri — appearing for the NTCA — said the Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary also has various other animals like tigers and leopards.
The top court also said it was not against NTCA’s policy to experiment relocating the African Cheetah to Madhya Pradesh.
The NTCA had then said all potential sites found feasible for reintroducing the cheetah will be reassessed and an action plan will be developed for measures that are required, prior to the reintroduction. It had also said the Madhya Pradesh government has written to it for reintroduction of cheetahs to the Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary.