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Friday, July 30, 2010

Cheetah Relocation India

Reintroduction

As per the recent news in The Hindu a plan to reintroduce the Cheetah in India has been cleared by the ministry (MOEF) headed by Hon. Minister. Jairam Ramesh.  This project if really mooted would bring about a paradigm shift in our conservation methodology. Not that things have yet to set in this direction. The debacle at Panna and Sariska have set the ball rolling in the name game of relocation and reintroduction.   

History & Speculation

Historical records in India point out Cheetah to be a popular hunting animal in Mughal Courts. This has led to speculation that Cheetah was imported into India. The locals in India are not able to differentiate between  the leopard and Cheetah easily a reason for further confusion in identification.  On the other hand eminent naturalist writers as Prater visualize it  as moving into India from Ethiopian zoogeographical region as the Asiatic Lion and perhaps the Leopard did way back in time. More proper  terminology would be "spread to".   

Nevertheless Cheetah did inhabit India, and its preferred habitat was low rugged hills and extensive grasslands. The last Cheetah was shot in Chattisgrah at Korwai. Hunting records of Cheetah being shot at Chhindwara and Korwai is bewildering since there are no extensive grasslands there. The area is densely forested and would have been much more heavily forested whence the big cat was hunted. This  would suggest that Indian animal a sub species was highly adaptable and could survive in thickets or small grassland habitats and plains adjoining dense forest canopies.   

This gives rise to question that animal that hunts for survival in extensive grasslands would it be able to survive in forest habitats? Perhaps Kuno appears to be more suitable, but I am sure field biologists must have studied the whole project for viability.  

The ideal prey base for Indian Cheetah would have been deer species of plains like ChinkaraBarking deer, Black Buck and to lesser extent associates - Chital, Nilgai. So where ever was black buck found, Indian Cheetah was present. as well. Now this is true of Noradehi and other two habitats I am sure. There is a large population of black buck in adjoining open areas and within at Nauradehi WLS

Reintroducing Cheetah in India seems to be driven more by sentiments then by practical reality  though I do not hesitate in praising Hon.Minister for his enthusiasm. But with so much stress on endangered tigers would it have been better to divert crucial resource towards tiger conservation? Cheetah could have been introduced after tiger's survival in India had been assured.     

Risk

Introduction of exotic species has proved disaster for many endemic species all over the World. Would this sub species, foreign to Indian ecosystem endanger an already surviving animal in that habitat? Will we be then experiencing a merry go round never ending trap?  For example Chinkara  or Indian gazelle is endangered in Central India and as most of the animals in reserved forests have been hunted down with ease. What will happen to these animals which in small population bracket may not be able to act as effective prey base.  In simple terms they could be hunted to extinction by our foreign friend. 

Susceptibility to disease can put these animals to risk and in turn they could turn out to be carriers of disease which the resident animals may not have immunity  for. 

How will this new sub species fare against tiger and leopards - the latter they could meet in fringes? Ho much time it would take for the reintroduced animal to get acclimatized with the habitat and settle down with competitors?

Man animal conflict is a serious issue at our wildlife places. This will increase further with habitats near to human habitation as in the case of leopard. A greater number of leopards are being killed in India then recorded.    

Conservation record in the state of MP has proven to be dismal, Panna is an example. Would the management be able to cope up with such a complex situation since Cheetah are more habitat specific and  fragile animals and not as adaptable as the leopard. 

Benefits

The benefits are overpowering, for in zealous stage Nauradehi may see relocation of large number of villages (over 60) from its confines. This should have happened much earlier.

Reintroduction will enable increase in conservation efforts at selected destinations. It would also reduce wild tiger safari tourism load in popular tiger reserves as Kanha and Bandhavgarh. These advantages are apparent but then number of questions come a fore.  
 

Tourism will get boost and the local jobs. Rise of land prices will benefit in some way as well, as has happened in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench. We could take away a small cake of Cheetah safari from Africa?

Most of the villages in Nauradehi WLS are terribly cut off in deep confines, bringing them to main stream with proper subsistence plain would be good. The habitat in turn will benefit with greater inviolate areas for wild species. Tiger's may make a  comeback here since Nauradehi once had large number of tigers. There are vagrant tigers in the WLS as has been reported.

We could boast of India as home of all big cats until......   
       
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