Inter-Governmental Agreement to Reintroduce Cheetah to India from South Africa
The Republic of South Africa and the Republic of India have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Re-introduction of Cheetah to the Asian country. In terms of the agreement, an initial batch of 12 cheetahs are to be flown from South Africa to India during February 2023. The cats will join eight cheetah introduced to India from Namibia during 2022.
Restoring cheetah populations is considered to be a priority for India and will have vital and far-reaching conservation consequences, which would aim to achieve a number of ecological objectives, including re- establishing the function role of cheetah within their historical range in India and improving the enhancing the livelihood options and economies of the local communities. Following the import of the 12 cheetah in February, the plan is to translocate a further 12 annually for the next eight to 10 years.
The initiative to reintroduce cheetah to a former range state following the local extinction of this iconic species due to over hunting and loss of habitat in the last century is being carried out following the request received from the government of the Republic of India. This multi-disciplinary international programme is being coordinated by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), South African National Parks (SANParks), the Cheetah Range Expansion Project, and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) in South Africa together with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Reintroduction of Cheetah to India facilitates cooperation between the parties to establish a viable and secure cheetah population in India; promotes conservation and ensures that expertise is shared and exchanged, and capacity built, to promote cheetah conservation. This includes human-wildlife conflict resolution, capture and translocation of wildlife and community participation in conservation in the two countries. In terms of the MoU, the countries will collaborate and exchange best practices in large carnivore conservation through the transfer of technology, training of professionals in management, policy, and science, and to establish a bilateral custodianship arrangement for cheetah translocated between the two countries.
The terms of the MoU will be reviewed every five years to ensure it remains relevant.
It may be noted that In August 2022, the Union Cabinet Minister of Labour and Employment and Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav stated that African cheetahs would be reintroduced to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in September. Accordingly, on 17 September 2022, 8 cheetahs from Namibia arrived in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park, where they were released as part of the programme to reintroduce the feline in India. Out of the 8 cheetahs, 5 are female and 3 are male.
Incidentally, Cheetahs have historically roamed free throughout India, but when a local king shot three in 1947, he killed what are believed to have been the last few that remained in the country. Five years later, experts officially declared cheetahs extinct in India. They were reported to be the only large mammal to disappear from the country since its independence in 1947.
Worldwide, scientists believe there are roughly 6,500 cheetahs remaining in the wild representing five subspecies. Two of the subspecies are critically endangered, while the other three are vulnerable, as per the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Cheetahs, the fastest land animals in the world, are facing extinction because of habitat loss and poaching. They’ve disappeared from most of Africa and Asia, and today they live primarily in southern and eastern Africa and Iran, the WWF says.
Over the next five years, India plans to release 50 cheetahs into various national parks, according to a January statement from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Other proposed locations for the cats include the Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, the Shahgarh Bulge and the Mukundara Tiger Reserve.
The ambitious plan is expected to cost $11.5 million, with the state-owned company Indian Oil chipping in $6.3 million. “The goal of our project is to reverse the tide for cheetahs—to slow, then stop their decline—while at the same time increasing the biodiversity and health of Indian ecosystems,” says Jhala Yadvendradev, a zoologist and the dean of the Wildlife Institute of India. “Bringing back a top predator restores historic evolutionary balance, resulting in cascading effects, leading to better management and restoration of wildlife habitat, for the benefit of all species”, he adds.