New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s approval this week to bring in African cheetahs from Namibia has given fresh hope to India to restore the population of the world’s fastest animal in the country.
India once had a huge population of Asiatic cheetahs. However, their numbers declined drastically in the colonial era due to hunting. The last of India’s cheetahs disappeared shortly after independence.
Cheetahs are found across Africa, and a small population lives in Iran, where they are critically endangered. As these large carnivore felines don’t need much water, they can survive in dry forests, grasslands, open plains and desert regions.
Experts have been dabbling with the idea of reintroducing cheetah in India for over a decade. In 2010, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) — both under the environment ministry — had recommended three sites to reintroduce cheetahs in India — Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Madhya Pradesh, and Shahgarh Landscape in Rajasthan.
The team had assessed 10 sites from seven landscapes located in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for their potential to host cheetah populations.
Field surveys were carried out to collect data on prey abundances, local community dependencies on forest resources and their attitudes towards wildlife, and remotely sensed data was used to assess habitat size.
The court in its ruling Tuesday gave the nod to bring African cheetahs to Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary or any other part of the country after a detailed study.
However, the question of whether India has suitable landscapes to host cheetah population remains. Based on the 2010 report, ThePrint lists the sites that could be used to serve as cheetah habitat in India, including the Kuno sanctuary.
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MP and Rajasthan
The Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary is a part of the Sheopur-Shivpuri forested landscape. Spanning an area of 6,800 sq km, the site is among the most suitable for the reintroduction of the cheetah, as a lot of restorative investment has already been made here for introducing the Asiatic lions.
The sanctuary’s protected area is estimated to have a capacity to sustain 27 cheetahs. This can be enhanced to over 32 by adding some more surrounding forested areas to the sanctuary.
Besides, Kuno offers the prospect of hosting all the four large forest felids of India — Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, leopard and cheetah — to coexist as they did in the past.
The Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh is another site that could become the habitat for cheetahs. It is a 1,197 sq km area inside a forested landscape of 5,500 sq km.
Based on the cheetah prey densities, the area could support up to 25 individuals. In their report, the WII and WTI suggested designating a 750 sq km patch as a core area of the sanctuary and relocate about 23 human settlements to increase the capacity of the site to over 50 to 70 cheetahs.
The Shahgarh landscape on the India-Pakistan border in Jaisalmer was found to be the third suitable location for introducing cheetah.
However, this area would require additional fencing since it is along the international border. The area also has a number of human settlements that would need to be shifted. Besides, the prey species diversity here is estimated to be less — limited only to chinkara. The area could support about 15 cheetahs initially, and has the potential to sustain up to 40 cheetahs.
There are a number of other sites that can be considered for future relocation projects, if appropriate management is carried out.
A 12,500 sq km area across Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which includes Sanjay National Park, Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary and Guru Ghasidas National Park, is the landscape in which cheetahs continued to survive until after India’s Independence.
However, this area has low prey densities today, and has tribal communities residing within the protected areas. Together, this landscape could support about 14 cheetahs. If conditions are improved the protected areas in this region could support over 30 cheetahs, while the landscape could hold up to 60 individuals.
Banni grasslands and Kachchh Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat — with an area of over 5,800 sq km between them — could also be considered as a potential cheetah habitat with a capacity to hold up to 50 cheetahs.
However, the area needs restoration, livestock grazing management and law enforcement to serve as a potential habitat.
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cheetah is an irrepairable lose to our country so we have introduce cheetah which was here in the past.this was the news for which i waited for.i m happy
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