Environment Minister of India launched the reintroduction plan for cheetah. The species has been extinct in India for 70 years.
On January 6, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav launched the Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India during the National tiger conservation authority meeting.
The project will kick off in the coming months with the release of between 12 and 14 cheetahs from South Africa, Namibia and Botswana in the Kuno National Park, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The park is 748 square kilometers, an area between the sizes of Singapore and Bahrain, and devoid of human settlements. Twenty-three villages have been relocated in the past decade to allow the introduction of the feline.
Leopards are already present in significant numbers in Kuno National Park with a density of about 9 leopards per 100 km2.
Fifty felines are expected to be introduced in the next five years. Last August, herds of deer were released into the wild in preparation of the reintroduction of cheetahs in the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
Authorities would consider a success on the short term if 50% of them survive during the first year. The project fails if introduced cheetahs do not survive or fail to reproduce in five years.
Cheetahs disappeared in India because of hunting and destruction of their natural habitat.
Last three cheetahs living in India were shot in 1947
According to the report, hunting is prohibited and safe sufficient habitats are currently available for the cheetah to live in India now.
The last three cheetahs living in India were shot in December 1947, few weeks after its independence from the United Kingdom. However, credible sighting reports continued to be recorded from the Indian subcontinent, notably in Pakistan, up to the 1990s.
There are almost no cheetahs left in Asia now, except in Iran where they are closely extinct with a population numbering about 40.
Considerations for introducing the cheetah in India started in 2009. The action plan was approved by the minister in November last year.
The project is not only about the charisma of the animal, but more for its role in the balance within ecosystems, the report explains. Similar to the tiger in forests, “the cheetah will fill the void” for the “much abused” open forests, savanna and grassland habitats.
The very name of the animal “Cheetah” originates from Sanskrit from Neolithic cave paintings in central India, meaning “the spotted one” the report emphasizes.
In 2011-12, projects cost estimates amounted to 4.3 trillion rupees (US$56 million at current exchange rate). With cheetahs, India also hopes to generate revenue from wildlife tourism.