Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Indian Cheetah

What was Indian Cheetah Like?

Captain Forsyth has described the Cheetah in India. According to him the animal lived in outskirts of  was capable of chase but preferred to ambush from behind the rocks. There is a hypothesis that speaks of Cheetah being brought to India by the Mughals.  

Last of these was shot in Korea District of Chhattishgarh State in India. The closest species is the Iranian Cheetah with marked similarity. I have been searching for records or write up on this carnivore in India without success.

One reason I can make out for its extinction is the loss of habitat due to colonization and expanding agriculture. Perhaps it was a greater menace on live stock and hence shot down. Cheetah and Leopard both seem to have confused locals as being the same animals, these misunderstandings exists till date although the former is absent. This confusion prevails even between Leopard and Panther, Tendua & Gulbaag, which are names of the same animal.    

Unlike leopard, the cheetah appears to be very fragile with greater dependency on niche habitat and specific prey base.Growing human presence could also be the reason. The carnivore could as well have been brought from outside by the Mughals to hunt black buck. 

During the tectonic plate movement  animals like leopard and lions where on board. But this animal appears to be endemic since in absence of large savannah grasslands the African Cheetah would have found difficult to survive. Anyway most of the grassland ecosystems in India are small and had been taken over by man centuries back.

Could it be possible that some of these animals still survive in our forest peripheries? People even if they see this animal may be mistaking it for the leopard. There still remain unexplored regions which may one day spring surprise like the tiger did in Nauradehi. With the entry of the tiger, Cheetah could have gone nocturnal and elusive like its cousin.

Keep a lookout when you drive through natural places!         

Big Cat Surprise

Death is saddening but does it augur hope? On this instance it does? A local daily has recently reported of a tigress found dead in Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary. Naurdehi WLS is about 80 km from my home town Jabalpur in MP, India.The recently in news regarding relocation of Cheetah. 

The sanctuary is large with the forest cover of about 3000 sq km. The area of the reserve is around 1000 plus sq km. Rich in prey base the place was seen as devoid of tigers and leopard. On my visits I have not heard or seen any evidence of tigers or leopards. The WLS is well known for frequent wolf sighting at Cheola Lake in Mohali Range where the carcass of the tigress was discovered. 

The forest has good prey base within the protected area but the big cats where presumed to be locally extinct due extensive hunting in days whence it was legal.   I have seen large herds of Sambar, Nil Gai, Spotted Deer, Langur and Wild Boars. The park has substantial population of Black Buck which prefer more grassy and open area.  

The big cat's presence is heartening, the forensic analysis is suggestive of natural death probably due to old age. The tigress was about fourteen years at time of death. These predators live to about 14, 15 years in the wild. Although a forest personal had reported seeing a tigress with two cubs few years back no further evidence to collaborate the findings was found later. Now it is confirmed, and presence of more tigers in the area would not come as a surprise. The large sanctuary has many inaccessible hill ranges where these creatures could still be surviving. A counting is being planned but I am not sure about it.

The natural death is suggestive of very little poaching taking place in the sanctuary. On my visits I could make out the sanctuary is well protected in spite of large number of villages inside. But the forest cover is under stress due to biotic pressure. The tiger cubs that where reportedly seen would be around 3/4 years now and capable of mating. 

The discovery also justifies that the place is capable of harboring big carnivores ..it is. Within the sanctum sanctorum more big cats should be discovered..night patrolling is one way of discovering these nocturnal creatures. Cheetah relocation will further boost conservation of habitat. Due to diverse habitat preference there will be little conflict with the tigers present in these forests.

The WLS has interesting wildlife with species that are not seen easily in other tiger reserves. The forest type differs from Kanha and Bandhavgarh and more dry mixed forest type. The open grassy areas support black buck and are preferred by Nil Gai as well. They are ideal for Cheetah which is an open country savannah dwelling predator unlike the tiger which prefers dense cover.   

I have visited the sanctuary few times with Avinash Pathak who knows the ways of the wild. More trips are being planned for bird surveys.

During a day safari at Nauradehi one can see chinkara, wolf, fox and animals mentioned above. I have seen the fox here near the Cheola Lake in day time along with chinkara antelope which is fast loosing habitat in MP and many have been poached. Bird surveys will certainly yield some surprises.