Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Project Cheetah

Project Cheetah UPSC (Cheetah Rehabilitation Project)

Project Cheetah is a pioneering conservation effort initiated by the Indian government. This project's primary objective is to reintroduce cheetahs into India, a species that had become extinct in the country in the 1950s. 

The Asiatic cheetah was once a native species to India, but due to hunting and habitat loss, it became extinct in the country in 1952. Project Cheetah involves the translocation of cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India.

The reintroduction of cheetahs is expected to benefit global cheetah conservation efforts and enhance ecosystem health in India. It can also promote ecotourism and improve protection in previously neglected areas.

As of the most recent information available, 20 cheetahs have been translocated to Kuno National Park, with plans to introduce more cheetahs from South Africa.

Project Cheetah

Table of Contents

  • What is Project Cheetah?
  • Cheetah Reintroduction
  • Name of Cheetah in Kuno National Park
  • Possible Reintroduction Sites for Cheetahs in India
  • What is the need of Project?
  • Challenges and Criticisms
  • Arguments in Support of the Project
  • Project Cheetah Cost
  • Project Cheetah UPSC Question

What is Project Cheetah?

Project Cheetah is an ambitious wildlife conservation initiative in India aimed at reintroducing the cheetah, a critically endangered big cat species, into the wild. The project seeks to reestablish a cheetah population in India after the species went extinct in the country nearly seven decades ago. It is the world’s first intercontinental large wild carnivore translocation project. 

The primary goal of Project Cheetah is to bring back cheetahs to India by importing them from other countries and releasing them into carefully selected protected areas. The cheetahs are expected to adapt and thrive in their new Indian habitats.

The project aims to establish a self-sustaining population of cheetahs in India. It plans to bring in 5-10 cheetahs every year for the next decade until a self-sustaining population is achieved.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), under the Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change, is the government body responsible for implementing Project Cheetah. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is also assisting in the reintroduction efforts.

The project considered several potential reintroduction sites, with Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh being one of the chosen locations. It was selected due to its climatic conditions, vegetation, prey availability, and the absence of human settlements.

Project Cheetah is a complex and high-profile initiative that has generated both enthusiasm and controversy within the conservation community and the public. The success of the project depends on effectively addressing the various challenges and ensuring the long-term survival of the reintroduced cheetah population in India.

Cheetah Reintroduction

(1) Debate over Cheetah Reintroduction:

The debate over whether cheetah reintroduction was compatible with the stated aims of wildlife conservation began soon after the Asiatic cheetah's extinction was confirmed in India, dating back to the mid-1950s. The discussion revolved around the pros and cons of reintroducing cheetahs to India.

(2) Sourcing Cheetahs from Iran and Iran's Reluctance:

There were proposals to source cheetahs from Iran starting in the 1970s, but these plans faced obstacles due to political instability. In the 1970s, the Indian Department of Environment formally requested Asiatic cheetahs from Iran for reintroduction but faced challenges after the Iranian Revolution.

In August 2009, Jairam Ramesh, who was the Minister of Environment at the time, reopened discussions with Iran regarding the possibility of sourcing cheetahs for reintroduction to India. However, Iran was hesitant to commit to this idea due to the extremely low numbers of cheetahs in their country. During these negotiations, it was reported that Iran requested an Asiatic lion in exchange for providing cheetahs for India's reintroduction efforts. However, India was not willing to export any of its lions in exchange for cheetahs.

Despite these negotiations, the plan to source cheetahs from Iran was eventually dropped in 2010. The challenges and complexities of such an exchange likely played a role in the decision to abandon this particular approach to cheetah reintroduction in India.

(3) Sourcing from Africa:

Offers from African countries, such as Kenya, to send African cheetahs to India were made as early as the 1980s. In 2009, the Wildlife Institute of India recommended sourcing cheetahs from Africa.

(4) Cloning Cheetahs:

During the early 2000s, Indian scientists proposed cloning Asiatic cheetahs obtained from Iran as a way to reintroduce them to India. They explored the idea of collecting live cells from the cheetah pair in Iran for cloning.

(5) Reintroduction Plan and Progress:

The reintroduction plan for cheetahs in India made significant progress in September 2009 when a meeting was organized to discuss the issue in Gajner, Rajasthan. Various organizations, experts, and officials participated in this meeting. The Wildlife Institute of India led the project and identified potential reintroduction sites in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat – by the end of May 2010.

Kuno Palpur and Nauradehi Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh landscape in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan have been selected in by the Wildlife Institute of India as most suitable sites for the reintroduction project.

(6) Supreme Court's Role:

The Supreme Court of India played a significant role in the reintroduction plan. In May 2012, the court put the project on hold due to various concerns. The court addressed the reintroduction of both African cheetahs and the translocation of Asiatic lions.

On 28 January 2020, the Supreme Court allowed the central government to introduce Southern African cheetahs to a suitable habitat in India as part of a trial to see if they can adapt. 

(7) Launch of Cheetah Reintroduction Action Plan:

In January 2022, Bhupender Yadav, the environment minister of India, officially launched the action plan for the reintroduction of cheetahs in the country. The action plan placed a significant emphasis on Kuno National Park as a potential reintroduction site.

In August 2022, Bhupender Yadav, who serves as the Union Cabinet Minister of Labour and Employment and Environment, Forest and Climate Change, made a significant announcement regarding the reintroduction of cheetahs in India.

Bhupender Yadav declared that African cheetahs would be reintroduced to the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, with a scheduled start date in September. He revealed that India expected to receive a total of 8 cheetahs from Namibia to support the reintroduction efforts.

Additionally, the Indian Government was actively working on plans to translocate another 12 cheetahs from South Africa to India as part of this ambitious project.

(8) Import and Reintroduction of African Cheetahs:

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. This marks a critical step in the reintroduction of the cheetahs. Out of the eight cheetahs, five were female, and three were male.

The cheetahs, all fitted with radio collars, were part of the reintroduction efforts in India. Radio collars are commonly used to track and monitor the movements and behaviors of wildlife, including reintroduced species, providing valuable data for researchers and conservationists. These collars enable experts to gather information on the cheetahs' locations, activities, and interactions with the environment, helping ensure the success of the reintroduction project and the well-being of the cheetah population.

(9) South Africa signed an agreement:

In January 2023, India signed an agreement with South Africa to reintroduce cheetahs. South Africa committed to relocating 12 cheetahs to India in February 2023, with plans for further relocation in the following years. In addition to this, the agreement between both countries also involves South Africa relocating a further 12 cheetahs every year for the next 8 to 10 years.

On February 18, 2023, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan released 12 cheetahs brought from South Africa into the Kuno Palpur National Park. These include 7 male cheetahs and 5 female cheetahs.

Name of Cheetah in Kuno National Park

Eight cheetahs arrived from Namibia, which are named as-

  • Freddie
  • Elton
  • Obaan
  • Sasha
  • Siyaya
  • Savannah
  • Tbilisi
  • Asha

All the 20 cheetahs at Kuno National Park (KNP) will now be known by their new names as they have been given Indian names.

8 cheetahs arrived from Namibia, which are renamed as-

  • Pavan (Obaan)
  • Gaurav (Elton)
  • Shaurya (Freddy)
  • Jwala (Siyaya)
  • Nabha (Savannah)
  • Dharti (Tiblisi)
  • Ashaa (Asha)
  • Sasha

12 cheetahs arrived from South Africa, which are renamed as-

  • Daksha
  • Nirva
  • Vayu
  • Agni
  • Gamini
  • Tejas
  • Veera
  • Suraj
  • Dheera
  • Uday
  • Prabhas
  • Pavak

Possible Reintroduction Sites for Cheetahs in India

A research team led by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) identified three regions with the potential to support cheetah populations as part of the reintroduction project. These regions are:

(1) Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • Located in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Encompasses an area of 1197 square kilometers.
  • Part of a larger savanna landscape covering 5500 square kilometers.
  • Deemed suitable for cheetah reintroduction due to its expansive habitat and ecosystem.

(2) Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuaries:

  • Situated in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Offers the potential to host populations of four of India's prominent big cats, including:
    • Bengal tiger.
    • Indian leopard.
    • Asiatic lion.
    • Asiatic cheetah.
  • These species historically coexisted in the same habitats before their decline, mainly due to overhunting and habitat destruction.

(3) Shahgarh Bulge Landscape:

  • Located in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
  • This area is fenced along the Indo-Pakistani border region.
  • Additional fencing measures can enhance protection for the reintroduced cheetah population.

These sites were carefully selected based on their ecological suitability and the potential to provide a secure and conducive environment for the reintroduction of cheetahs in India. The goal is to reestablish a stable and thriving cheetah population in these regions and contribute to the conservation of this critically endangered species.

What is the need of Project?

The need for Project Cheetah arises from several important factors and conservation considerations:

(i) Historical Presence: Cheetahs historically inhabited India, but they went extinct in the country several decades ago due to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. Restoring cheetahs to their native range is an attempt to bring back a species that was once a part of India's natural heritage.

(ii) Conservation of a Critically Endangered Species: Cheetahs are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are among the most imperiled big cat species globally. Reintroducing them to India contributes to global efforts to conserve and protect this iconic species from extinction.

(iii) Biodiversity Conservation: Cheetahs are apex predators in grassland ecosystems. Their reintroduction can have positive cascading effects on the entire ecosystem. By restoring cheetahs to their natural habitat, the project aims to help conserve the biodiversity of these grassland and open forest ecosystems.

(iv) Ecosystem Restoration: The project's focus on open forests and grasslands is important for the overall health of India's ecosystems. These habitats are vital for maintaining ecological balance and supporting various species of flora and fauna.

(v) Public Awareness and Education: Project Cheetah serves as a high-profile initiative that raises public awareness about wildlife conservation. It provides an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of protecting endangered species and their habitats.

(vi) Research and Scientific Understanding: The project offers valuable opportunities for scientific research on cheetah behavior, adaptation to new environments, and the ecological impact of their reintroduction. This knowledge can inform future conservation efforts.

(vii) Long-Term Sustainability: Successful reintroduction of cheetahs can contribute to the long-term sustainability of the species. By establishing viable populations in India, the project aims to secure the cheetah's future beyond the challenges it faces in its remaining African habitats.

(vii) Global Conservation: Cheetahs are a globally endangered species. Their reintroduction in India is part of the broader international effort to conserve and protect cheetah populations worldwide.

However, it's important to note that Project Cheetah has also faced criticism and challenges related to site selection, habitat preparation, and the genetic suitability of African cheetahs for adaptation to Indian conditions. Efforts to overcome these issues and ensure the success of the project are ongoing.

Challenges and Criticisms

The Project Cheetah, which aims to reintroduce cheetahs in India, has faced a variety of challenges and criticisms. Here are some key points regarding the project:

(1) Scientific Basis: Some wildlife specialists have criticized the project for being based on an unfounded assumption. They argue that the plan disregards critical scientific results from recent demographic research on free-roaming cheetahs.

(2) Choice of Site: Several wildlife and conservation experts have questioned whether Kuno National Park is a suitable habitat for a large population of cheetahs. They point out that the park's area may not be sufficient for cheetahs, given their need for expansive habitats.

(3) Spatial Requirements: Cheetahs typically require vast areas to roam freely, and Kuno NP's size is expected to be below the ideal requirement, potentially leading to high population density and intra-species competition.

(4) Habitat Requirements: Kuno may not have the necessary prey base to support a population of cheetahs, as some of the traditional prey species like blackbucks and chinkaras have disappeared from the area.

(5) Prolonged Captivity: Quarantining cheetahs for extended periods may have affected their adaptive capabilities and psychological adjustment, making them more vulnerable.

(6) Coexistence with Tigers and Leopards: There is concern about the potential for competition between cheetahs, tigers, and leopards in Kuno, which could lead to conflicts.

(7) Genetic Subspecies Differentiation: Some experts have raised questions about the genetic subspecies differentiation of cheetahs in India and whether they are distinct from African cheetahs.

(8) Distraction from Other Conservation Efforts: The high-profile nature of the cheetah project has been criticized for diverting attention and resources from other crucial conservation projects, such as those focused on the Great Indian Bustard and the translocation of Asiatic lions.

Arguments in Support of the Project

(1) Too Early to Judge: Some proponents argue that it's premature to pass judgment on the project as cheetahs need time to establish their territories, and long-term success should be the focus.

(2) Knowledge Gain: The project is advancing India's knowledge of cheetahs, including their veterinary concerns and behavioral patterns, which can positively impact long-term success.

(3) Breeding Conducive: The successful birth of cubs suggests that Kuno NP provides a conducive environment for breeding and genetic diversity preservation.

(4) Protracted Process: Like other successful conservation projects in India, such as Project Tiger and rhinoceros conservation, it may take time to establish a genetically viable cheetah population.

(5) Ecological and Biodiversity Benefits: The project enhances the value of grasslands, benefits grassland biodiversity, and restores ecosystems that have been neglected for some time.

(6) Conservation Efforts: The government is actively addressing the challenges, and steps are being taken to improve monitoring, protection, and management.

(7) Cheetah as a Flagship Species: The cheetah is considered a flagship species for grasslands, and its conservation can help preserve other grassland species in the predator food chain.

Project Cheetah Cost

The estimated cost for the first phase of the cheetah reintroduction project, covering five years, is Rs 91.65 crore. This information was provided by Ashwini Kumar Choubey, the minister of state in the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change. 

The cost figures are based on the Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India. The project involves significant financial resources to support the various activities related to the reintroduction and conservation of cheetahs in India.

Project Cheetah UPSC Question

Q. Project Cheetah in which national park?

A. Project Cheetah is primarily focused on the reintroduction of cheetahs in Kuno National Park, located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Kuno National Park is one of the key sites selected for this ambitious conservation project. The park is expected to serve as the main habitat for the reintroduced cheetah population, aiming to reestablish a sustainable cheetah population in India.

Q. Project Cheetah started in which year?/Project Cheetah launched in which year?

A. Project Cheetah was officially launched on September 17, 2022 as an ambitious initiative to reintroduce cheetahs to India. The project aims to reintroduce the cheetah, which went extinct in India in the 1950s, into suitable habitats in the country. This initiative involves the translocation of African cheetahs to India for reintroduction into the wild.

Project Cheetah

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