The Union Environment Ministry recently said that India is set to bring cheetahs from South Africa to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur National Park by August this year.
How cheetahs went extinct in India?
The cheetah is the only large carnivore to have gone extinct in India, primarily due to hunting and habitat loss.
Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Korea, Madhya Pradesh, is widely believed to have killed the last three recorded cheetahs in India in 1947.
In 1952, the Indian government officially declared the Cheetah extinct in the country.
Cheetah in Indian History:
The earliest available record for cheetahs being used for hunts in India, comes from the 12th century Sanskrit text Manasollasa, which was produced by the Kalyani Chalukya ruler, Someshvara III (reigned from 1127-1138 CE).
According to the wildlife expert, “Cheetah coursing” or the use of trained cheetahs for hunting had become a highly specialized activity in the medieval period and was carried out on a large scale during the Mughal Empire.
Emperor Akbar, who reigned from 1556-1605, was particularly fond of the activity and is recorded to have collected 9,000 cheetahs in total.
Abul Fazl, Akbar’s chief courtier, noted that the emperor had devised a new method to capture cheetahs. Akbar is said to have used shallow pits with an automatic trap door which would close after they fell inside.
The capture of wild cheetahs for hunting and the difficulty to breed them in captivity was leading to a decline in the cheetah population, even before the entry of the British.
Unlike the Mughals, the British were not very interested in coursing with the cheetahs. Rather, they preferred to hunt big game, such as tigers, bison and elephants.
Under the British Raj, forests were extensively cleared, so as to develop settlements and to set up indigo, tea and coffee plantations.
This further resulted in the loss of habitat for big cats, contributing to their decline.
What is reintroduction and why reintroduce Cheetah now?
‘Reintroduction’ of a species means releasing it in an area where it is capable of surviving.
Reintroductions of large carnivores have increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions.
The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated, mainly by over-hunting in India in historical times.
India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as ecological reasons.
Re-introducing Cheetah in India:
The project to translocate cheetahs from Africa to India is a long-term one being implemented by the environment ministry with the help of the Wildlife Institute of India.
The Supreme Court appointed an expert panel, which approved Kuno Palpur as the possible location for cheetah relocation.
In the past six months, the Madhya Pradesh forest department has relocated villagers from Kuno and has prepared an enclosure with round-the-clock surveillance for reintroduction of cheetahs.
The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal.
It is listed as vulnerable in IUCN red listed species.
The country’s last spotted feline died in Chhattisgarh in 1947. Later, the cheetah — which is the fastest land animal — was declared extinct in India in 1952.
The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List, and is believed to survive only in Iran.