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An overview of India’s relationship with the cheetah, from extinction to return

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After being declared extinct in 1952, the last of the cheetahs in India are now being reintroduced in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park.

Cheetah populations used to be fairly common in India. From Kathiawar in the west to Deogarh in the east, and from Jaipur and Lucknow in the north to Mysore in the south, the animal was discovered.

The last three known Asiatic cheetahs in India were killed in 1947 by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya, Surguja, in what is now Chhattisgarh.

In 1952, India officially proclaimed the Asiatic Cheetah extinct.

In contrast, eight cheetahs are expected to come from Namibia on September 17 – 74 years later — as part of the Centre’s complex strategy to reintroduce the wild cats to the nation.

We examine how this magnificent animal, which formerly roamed India, became extinct, how the nation wants to reintroduce the species, and the challenges it may encounter.

Cheetah in India

In India, under the rule of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, in the 16th century, the first cheetah was reared in captivity. There were 10,000 cheetahs under his father Akbar’s reign, with 1,000 of them living in his palace.

According to a BBC article, at least 230 cheetahs lived in the wild in India between 1799 and 1968.

The cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, went extinct in India for unknown reasons, but the majority of scientists blame habitat degradation and intensive hunting.

In ancient days, hunters pursued the animal for sport and reward. It was widespread throughout the nation, with the exception of the high mountains. According to reports, cheetahs were heavily reduced during British rule because the wild cats would raid settlements and slaughter cattle.

Some believe that the animal’s native habitat was destroyed by desertification, a process by which fertile terrain is converted into a desert.

Cheetah reintroduction strategy

The Department of Environment formally went to the Iranian government in the 1970s to request Asiatic cheetahs in use for reintroduction, and it appears that they received a favourable response. Indira Gandhi was particularly interested in bringing the cheetah back. Sadly, such negotiations came to a halt when the nation went into emergency and the Shah of Iran was overthrown.

2009 saw a resurgence of the controversy, and it was decided to introduce the African cheetah to India.

In September of that same year, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), on behalf of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, organised a meeting in Gajner, Rajasthan, to explore the matter.

The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a well-known NGO with headquarters in Delhi, and the WII jointly organised the meeting. High-ranking representatives of numerous state forest departments were there, together with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and other non-governmental organisations.

Ten locations in five central states were examined, and Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh emerged as one of the most promising habitats for cheetahs. It is a 261 square kilometre area with a robust population of chital, sambar, nilgai, wild pig, chinkara, and cattle.

The action plan was introduced on January 6, 2022, by Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, who stated that “The cheetah that went extinct in independent India is all ready to return.”

Cheetah populations around the world are declining

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are just 7,100 cheetahs surviving in the wild, and their fate is still unknown.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species, the cheetah is classified as vulnerable.

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