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How India can be an opportunity for cheetah, and why it will take time?

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    11th Mar, 2020

The reintroduction of cheetahs in India can be very useful for the species, and very important for the biodiversity of India’s grassland ecosystems, an expert explains.

Context

The reintroduction of cheetahs in India can be very useful for the species, and very important for the biodiversity of India’s grassland ecosystems, an expert explains.

About

  • There are 31 cheetah populations spread in 23 countries and we all know that population is declining due to human cause at this point, like human-wildlife conflict, a decline of prey, loss of habitat, illegal wildlife trade etc. 
  • For example, in Namibia, a small CITES quota exists of cheetahs as legal trophy-hunting, and possibly up to 200 more are removed by farmers as laws there say that you can take the animal if there is the fear of loss of life or property. 
  • Plus, the illegal trade is coming from the Horn of Africa where cubs would be snatched from the wild; their mother is either killed or not killed.

What role does the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) play in Namibia?

  • They, like any other predators, would prefer prey rather than livestock. 
  • It is important to maintain that balance to have enough prey for the predators. Getting rid of predators can cause more problems, as it opens up territories and other dispersal animals come into the open territory. 
  • For instance, research has shown that removing jackals increases the jackal population due to their reproductive behaviour. 
  • The more you kill jackals, the higher is the jackal population. 
  • In Namibia, there are still issues, but the government is aware that cheetahs are the one species that is being affected by human-wildlife conflict and everybody is making plans. 
  • There are an estimated 1,500 adult and adolescent cheetahs.

If India goes ahead with its plan to reintroduce the cheetah, what will be the factors at play?

  • If India is willing to give it a try, it can be very useful for the species, and very important for the biodiversity of India’s grassland ecosystems and helping cascade facts as to what a top predator can do in helping other species which are in that ecosystem, like the Indian bustard and the caracal, both needing help for their survival.
  • India is indeed a different continent from Africa, but then cheetahs are very adaptable. 
  • Just what we know from international captive facilities and breeding programmes, cheetahs are adaptable. 
  • But today cheetahs need places to live in the wild. India is providing an opportunity of a new landscape, a landscape which can also assist other species within. 
  • It is going to assist the biodiversity here in the country as well. 
  • Cheetahs are not aggressive animals. 
  • If communities manage their livestock well, and there is a wildlife prey base, there are arid landscapes here in India that are perfect for cheetah. 
  • At the same time, cheetahs are also found in a variety of landscape throughout its range there in Africa, from thorn-bush Savannah to arid Savannah.

How can India address such issues?

  • Put them in a proper habitat and then create awareness, supporting research projects, and realise that it is going to take several years to re-establish populations. 
  • Look at the population support that has gone on in the United States for species like the California condor. It was nearly extinct. That programme is ongoing for 40 years and, after 40 years, now we can call it successful. 
  • Cheetahs are fast too, but its reestablishment is going to be long-term and it’s not going to be fast.

Have there been such relocation experiments elsewhere?

  • There have been a lot of reintroductions in the southern part of Africa. 
  • Last year, there was the reintroduction of cheetah up into Malawi where they were extinct.
  • Extinction takes time and bringing the species back takes more time and more money. 
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