"This experiment is sadly fatally flawed and this magnificent animal should not go through this traumatic experience," said Valmik Thapar in an interview with The Quint on India's plan to relocate African Cheetahs to Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier the wildlife conservationist had released a scathing video from Serengeti, the African Cheetah's natural habitat, calling into question the viability of the whole project.
Earlier this year, India and Namibia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to bring Cheetahs back into the Indian subcontinent.
The Asian Cheetahs were native to India before they were declared extinct in 1952. This was largely due to habitat loss and hunting for their distinct spotted pelts. It is widely believed that the last three recorded Cheetahs were killed by Maharaja Ramanuj Partap Singh Deo.
India has been making efforts to reintroduce the animals since 2020, when the Supreme Court had announced that the African Cheetahs should be introduced into carefully chosen locations.
India is expected to receive 8 African Cheetahs by 15th August 2022. A separate group of 12 is expected to be received from South Africa. The relocation has been planned to coincide with India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations.
'A High Risk Adventure India Does Not Need'
The Cheetah Translocation Project (CTP) has come under the management of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). And the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, which was home to their Asiatic counterparts over a 100 years ago, has been selected for the relocation.
Environmentalists meanwhile have been doubtful of the success of this project.
The Quint reached out to Valmik Thapar on his thoughts on the impact this decision would have on both the African Cheetahs and their new habitat. Here is what he had to say:
"The effort to introduce African Cheetahs is a high risk venture which India does not need. Media hype and coverage of the Cheetah being returned to India will override questions on the viability of the process."Valmik Thapar
'No Prey Base, No Natural Habitat'
Pointing out to lack of a proper habitat and prey for cheetahs here in India, he said,
"We have no natural habitat for free ranging cheetahs in India and no prey base for a proper food cycle. In the Serengeti, which is one of the best 30000 sq km habitat for Cheetahs, there are only 300 Cheetahs and a million plus prey. Still population declines as Cheetahs have no genetic diversity and are very susceptible to disease."
Further elaborating on lack of habitat, he added, "There are 7000 African Cheetahs in Africa spread over 20 countries and 3 million sq kms. We have an enormous challenge as Cheetah cubs suffer in their very best habitat like the Serengeti (at) a 95% mortality rate. Captive cheetahs survive with difficulty. We are introducing Cheetahs into tiger habitat that has more forest than open grassland. Cheetahs are not a forest animal."
'Cheetahs Will Be Killed by Feral Dogs'
He pointed out that the area around Kuno has 160 villages.
"Packs of village dogs and leopards and hyenas will spell doom for Cheetahs if they are released from enclosures. Managing them in the enclosure will be a great challenge as they are delicate and prone to disease."
He also pointed out that there is no record in the last two centuries of a healthy Cheetah population in India. He says, "the Cheetah in India when it lived, if it lived, was the Asiatic Cheetah and only 22 to 40 of those now survive in Iran."
Pointing out the flaw in India's programme, he said, "Since the African Cheetah is in decline in its best areas in Africa trying to introduce them in India where they are alien and exotic is impossible."
"Millions of dollars will be spent and we should use that money to look after what we have and not on a non viable venture. Let's keep our own house in order. This experiment is sadly fatally flawed and this magnificent animal should not go through this traumatic experience," added Thapar.