A recent tragedy has unfolded in India’s Madhya Pradesh state as another cheetah, named Tajas, succumbed to injuries at the Kuno National Park. This incident marks the seventh death of a big cat within a mere two-month span, casting a shadow over the ambitious cheetah reintroduction initiative.
Although cheetahs were declared extinct in India back in 1952, a determined endeavor was launched last year to reintroduce them into the country’s wilderness, aiming to reestablish their dwindling population. Unfortunately, this effort has been marred by the series of recent cheetah fatalities, prompting some conservationists to raise questions about the suitability of Kuno National Park’s habitat.
The Kuno National Park was selected as the site for this reintroduction project due to its supposed “suitable habitat and adequate prey base,” as outlined in the action plan established in January of the preceding year. However, the recent spate of cheetah deaths has ignited scrutiny over whether the park truly provides enough prey for these majestic creatures. Furthermore, concerns have been voiced regarding the potential threat posed by other predators within the park’s ecosystem.
The reintroduction project commenced with the translocation of eight cheetahs from Namibia to India in September of the previous year, followed by an additional 12 cheetahs from South Africa in February 2023. Tragically, three of these cheetahs have met their demise over the past two months, while three cubs born to a Namibian cheetah at Kuno in March also met an untimely end in May. These cubs were reportedly discovered weak, underweight, and severely dehydrated, prompting concerns about their viability in the park.
The causes of adult cheetah deaths have been attributed to a range of factors, including kidney failure and injuries sustained during mating. Scientists engaged in the project had previously anticipated some fatalities, with the action plan explicitly stating that a 50% mortality rate within the first year would still be considered a success.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the cheetah reintroduction effort with much enthusiasm, receiving accolades from wildlife experts. However, as the fatalities have garnered attention, even India’s Supreme Court has weighed in. In May, the Court expressed apprehensions about the cheetah deaths and called upon the federal government to explore the possibility of relocating the cats to an alternate site.
The cheetah holds significant symbolic value within India, woven into numerous folktales and cultural narratives. Regrettably, it also stands as the sole large mammal to have faced extinction since the nation’s independence in 1947, largely due to historical hunting practices, habitat degradation, and a diminishing prey base. The recent deaths underscore the challenges and complexities associated with reintroducing such an iconic species into its native environment.