Indian Supreme Court rejects cheetah reintroduction plan16/05/2012 15:44:59
India postpones/cancels cheetah plan
May 2012. The Indian Supreme Court has halted the planned reintroduction of cheetahs into India. The court rejected the plan after the state of GujaraT objected to the plan, Project Cheetah.
In 2009, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) was invited to participate in a programme by the Indian government to reintroduce cheetahs to that country after nearly 60 years of extinction. The plan, headed by Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh, who served as India's first Director of Wildlife Preservation and is now Chairman of the Wild Trust of India (WTI), aimed to reintroduce cheetahs in stages over the next decade.
The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary
In an advisory capacity, CCF had conducted field inspections in order to determine the most viable release areas. The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, a 344,686 square kilometre (133,084 square mile) reserve in central India, had been chosen for the first reintroduction. The sanctuary is home to many species, including wolves, leopards and nilgai --Asia's largest antelope.
However many people has questioned the reintroduction, and the cost, as India is struggling to protect its population of other iconic big cats, tigers and lions.
Founder and executive director of The Cheetah Conservation Fund comments on stay of cheetah re-introduction by India Supreme Court
May 2012. Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, issued the following statement regarding the Indian Supreme Court’s staying the cheetah re-introduction project in India: “CCF is not a part of any of the negotiations or decisions being made on the Indian side and therefore we can only continue to provide advice and support, as we have thus far.”
The plan by the Indian government, and headed by Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh, who served as Indian Government’s first Director of Wildlife and is now Chairman of the Wild Trust of India (WTI), would reintroduce cheetahs in stages over the next decade. To this effect, a team of experts including representatives from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), Cheetah OutReach, the IUCN’s Cat Specialist Group, Re-introduction Specialist Group and Veterinary Specialist Group, and Oxford University’s WILDCRU, met in 2009 with Indian authorities and forestry directors from various regions.A report of these meetings concluded that “With the establishment of a network of protected areas, implementation of effective wildlife legislation and a dramatic change in the conservation ethos and awareness in the country inter alia, the original cause for the extinction of the cheetah in India has been adequately addressed.”
Careful consideration of the genetics of the Asiatic cheetah and its only remaining population found in Iran (less that 100) led to the conclusion that the cheetahs participating in this project should be imported from southern Africa, where the largest populations of wild cheetah still exist. Furthermore, the fact that the Asiatic and African cheetahs are genetically so similar, according to cat specialists including world renowned geneticist Dr. Stephen O’Brien, and that there are no living Indian cheetahs, there is no concern about mixing populations. (Read about Cheetah conservation in Iran).
Field inspections by the Indian research team determined that the most viable release area for the first re-introduction is the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, a 6,800 square kilometre (2,625 square mile) reserve in central India. The sanctuary was chosen as it is home to many species, including a variety of antelope, deer, wolves, and leopards. The absence of lions, the cheetah’s non-agressive nature, and work already done with the communities were also decisive factors. By returning cheetahs to a grasslands ecosystem where they used to thrive, the historic evolutionary balance would be restored and locally over-abundant prey species would be regulated; therefore a top-down effect of a large predator would enhance and maintain the diversity in lower trophic levels of the ecosystem, as explained in the group’s report.
In an advisory capacity, and in consultation with the re-introduction team, CCF has been working with the WTI and India’s authorities to discuss the best strategies for this re-introduction and providing its expertise based on proven successful programmes implemented in Namibia and other areas of Africa.
CCF believes that the project is sustainable to the extent that all recommendations made by the international consultants and Indian research teams are followed, and these include necessary infrastructure changes as well as community involvement and education. CCF advises that local communities be counselled in living harmoniously with wildlife, particularly predators, through training and communications programmes. To this effect, CCF emphasised the success of the conservancies in Namibia –which have become a model in conservation management where collaborative partnerships of neighbouring communities work together to develop and implement sustainable livestock and wildlife management systems. Namibian community conservation programmes have contributed enormously to integrated conservation programmes that provide benefits back to the communities involved as conservation partners, in particular, through the development of different techniques for livestock farming in a predator-friendly (non-lethal) way, and where integrated systems encourage good livestock and wildlife management. In addition, sustainable tourism has been encouraged so that jobs and business opportunities for the local people has been created.
Conservation biologists from India have attended several of CCF’s international courses in Cheetah Conservation Biology, and in Integrated Livestock, Wildlife, and Predator Management. These courses focus on capacity building and mitigating conflict between people and wildlife, with a special emphasis on the cheetah. Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh and colleagues have visited CCF in Namibia.
With regards to the cheetahs that may be slated for re-introduction, CCF will provide its expertise with their selection as it has developed a proven protocol for re-introducing wild-caught cheetahs that allows the success of such a proposed re-introduction programme. To date, CCF has successfully re-wilded cheetah in two regions in Namibia, and has re-stocked cheetah populations in the Umfolozi National Park and Phinda, both in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Lessons learned from these successes will assist local Indian NGOs with the re-introduction. In addition, CCF has been asked to provide experienced staff to train local rangers and WTI researchers in cheetah monitoring and behaviour.
Any cheetahs selected for the project will require permits from both the importing and exporting governments, as well as from Convention of International Trade for Endangered Species (CITES).