“What we have done so far is a very small, first step for a very long-term programme,” said conservationist Divyabhanusinh when asked about the viability of the Cheetah Reintroduction Action Plan in India.
Author of the book ‘The Story Of India’s Cheetahs’, Divyabhanusinh told The Quint that cheetahs which have been translocated from Africa to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh have a “very good chance” of propagating in India.
“In Africa, cheetahs are harassed by hyenas, which hunt in packs. Indian hyenas or the striped hyena is a solitary animal. It does not hunt in packs. And, Kuno-Palpur has no wild dogs like there are wild dogs in Africa,” he reasoned.
The conservationist added that that once the cheetahs start propagating, they can be radiated out to other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India, which have been earmarked in the action plan.
What About the Recent Cheetah Deaths?
“To start damning something, that two cheetahs have died, therefore, it’s not going to work, or because they are African cheetahs, therefore, it’s not going to work, I don’t subscribe to that,” Divyabhanusinh told The Quint when asked about the recent deaths of African cheetahs at the Kuno National Park.
Daksha, a female cheetah who was brought to India from South Africa, died on 9 May. She was the third – of the 20 cheetahs that have been translocated from Africa – to die in the last three months. Two other cheetahs – Sasha and Uday – had died in March and April, respectively.
Most recently, a female cub, who was among the four born to a cheetah named Jwala in March 2023, died on Tuesday, 23 May.
To this, the author said that this was not the first time that cheetahs have been translocated to India. He told The Quint that from 1918, or between 1918 – that's after the First World War and around say 1948-49, Indian princes imported 200 cheetahs from Africa for the sole purpose of taming them and hunting blackbucks with them.
“Now, these were all African cheetahs, like the present 20 that have arrived, came after a choppy sea journey of 15 days. There were no medicines or tranquilizers for cats. They all came to India. And when they fell ill, they were treated with traditional Indian medicines. If those cheetahs could survive and hunt blackbucks happily, I see no reason why these cheetahs cannot survive.”Divyabhanusinh, Author and Conservationist
He added that one of the female cheetahs has given birth to four cubs, and that it’s a positive indication for the project.
Will The Project Help Increasing Cheetah Population In India?
On being asked if the Cheetah Reintroduction Action Plan will find success in India, Divyabhanusinh asserted that what has happened until now is only a “first step in a long-term programme.”
He said that the preservation of lions started in 1879 by the three Nawabs of Junagadh, and nearly 150 years later, there are over 1,000 lions in India.
“Similarly, when Project Tiger was started in 1972-73, we had 1,823 tigers in India. Today there are 3,000-plus tigers in India – 50 years later,” he explained.
Can The Asiatic Lions in Gujarat Be Translocated to Kuno?
Although lions and cheetahs have historically coexisted, the former cannot be immediately moved to Kuno National Park as the cheetahs need time to settle down, the author remarked.
“Whether Asiatic lions should move into Kuno Park, of course they must. But now that the cheetahs are here, they need to be given time. If you introduce lions when the cheetah is still in a boma or has just come out of a boma, it can cause a conflict between the two animals,” Divyabhanusinh explained.
He added that the government of Gujarat had refused to give the lions as early as 1995.
“At that time, there were no cheetahs being talked of. But the government of Gujarat does not want to part with lions, and God knows when it's going to happen,” he concluded.