Centre Sets Up High-Level Committee To Oversee Cheetah Project

Three adult cheetahs and three of the four cubs born to a female Namibian cheetah have so far died in around two months at the Kuno National Park.

A Cheetah brought from South Africa was released in an enclosure at Palpur, Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, in Sheopur.

Following deaths of six cheetahs, the Centre has set up an 11-member high-level steering committee to oversee the cheetah project. 

The high-level steering committee has been set up to review and monitor the progress of the cheetah reintroduction programme and provide suggestions on the opening of the cheetah habitat for eco-tourism. It is headed by Rajesh Gopal, Secretary General of Global Tiger Forum.

An international panel of experts will also advice the committee headed by Gopal. 

In September 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had introduced the first batch of eight cheetahs brought to India from Namibia into a quarantine enclosure at Kuno. It is part of the Centre's efforts to reintroduce cheetahs in India, which went extinct in the country around seven decades ago.

So far, three adult cheetahs and three out of the four cubs born to a female Namibian cheetah have died in around two months at the Kuno National Park, prompting questions from several experts on the suitability of the habitat and wildlife management.

How will the high-level panel work?

The high-level steering committee includes one head and 10 others.

Besides its head Gopal, the other 10 members are: RN Mehrotra, former principal chief conservator of forest of Rajasthan; PR Sinha, former director of the Wildlife Institute of India; HS Negi, former APCCF, Wildlife; and PK Malik, former faculty at WII; GS Rawat, former dean of the WII; Mittal Patel, an Ahmedabad-based social worker; Qamar Qureshi, WII scientist and Inspector General of NTCA; and the MP's Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife, and Chief Wildlife Warden.

A consulting panel of international cheetah experts, including Adrian Tordiffe, Veterinary Wildlife Specialist, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Laurie Marker, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia; Andrew John Fraser, Farm Olivenbosch, South Africa and Vincent van dan Merwe, Manager, Cheetah Metapopulation Project, South Africa, will provide advice as an when required.

An office memorandum issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) said the high-level committee has been set up "to review, progress, monitor and (give) advice on the cheetah introduction" to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and the NTCA .

It will provide suggestions on the opening of the cheetah habitat for eco-tourism and on regulations in this regard.

The panel will be in force for two years and will hold at least one meeting every month. It will also provide suggestions on community interface and for their involvement in project activities.

What have experts said?

Talking to PTI, South African wildlife expert Vincent van der Merwe had Thursday recommended fencing the cheetah habitats to circumscribe the overall threat to the big cats recently introduced in the country, prevent their "extreme ranging behaviour", and protect the prey from anthropogenic pressures such as poaching.

He said the reintroduction project is going to see even higher mortality in the next few months when cheetahs try to establish territories and come face to face with leopards and tigers at the Kuno National Park.

Several experts, even the Supreme Court, have expressed concerns over the lack of space and logistical support at Kuno Park and have suggested shifting cheetahs to other sanctuaries.

In April, the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department had written a letter to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, requesting an "alternative" site for the cheetahs at Kuno.

Under the ambitious reintroduction programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the first batch cheetahs from Namibia into a quarantine enclosure at Kuno on his 72nd birthday on September 17 last year. In a second such translocation, 12 cheetahs were flown in from South Africa and released into Kuno on February 18.

(With PTI inputs)