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Can India bring cheetahs back into the wild?


New Delhi, Aug 12: Almost 10 years after the Centre decided to bring Cheetahs back to India, where they once roamed, the big cats are yet to run wild in India. The plan hit a roadblock for want of funds.

Now, the Central government may finally see a glimmer of hope for its ambitious project after the Supreme Court's nod to green light National Tiger Conservation Authority's proposal to experimentally introduce African cheetahs in Indian jungles.

Can India bring cheetahs back into the wild?

India's last spotted cheetah had died in 1947. In 1952, the animal was declared extinct in the country.

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The NTCA had proposed the ambitious project to relocate African Cheetah from Namibia to Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

Possible reintroduction in MP

An expert panel formed by the government carried out extensive survey and research to locate ideal habitats for cheetah in India and zeroed in on three suitable habitats Kuno and Nauradehi wildlife sanctuaries in MP and Shahgarh area in Rajasthan. Velavadar National Park in Gujarat was also in the race.

The Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh has the potential to hold populations of four of India's big cats; the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, and Asiatic lion and cheetah, all four of which have co-existed in the same habitats historically for many years, before they were wiped out due to over hunting and habitat destruction.

NTCA said all the potential sites found feasible for reintroducing Cheetah will be reassessed and an action plan will be developed for measures that are required, prior to the reintroduction.

According to WII, the MP forest department needs to reserve 700 sq km area for the imported cheetahs to dwell in the sanctuary, spread over 1,197 sq km. Besides, 20 villages located in the 700 sq km area for cheetah project in Nauradehi need to be evacuated. A whopping Rs 264 crore would be needed to compensate around 2,640 families living in these villages.

Cheetah reintroduction plan

The plan to reintroduce cheetah in India was conceived during the UPA-II government in 2010, under which Kuno-Palpur sanctuary, spread over an area of 344 sq km, was chosen for it. But no headway could be made due to non-availability of funds.

Iran, the only country in the world to have a small population of Asiatic Cheetahs refused to send any to India, it was decided to introduce African Cheetahs to India instead.

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The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which provides inputs to governments and institutions on biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development, has given no objection for the translocation.

Cheetah, a large cat of the sub-family Felinae, which runs at the speed of 110 to 120 km per hour, is now extinct in India.

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