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India asks for roadmap for reintroduction of cheetahs

Cheetahs are a step closer to being reintroduced to India, where they were exterminated at least a half century ago, following a decision by the Indian government to allow surveys to identify suitable habitat for the big cat.

If all goes according to plan, the world’s fastest land mammal will be reintroduced to India from Africa. The surviving remnant of Asia’s cheetahs, genetically close relatives of their African kin, now found only in Iran, are deemed by experts to be too few in number to risk fragmenting its breeding population.

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NGS photo by Chris Johns

If cheetahs are reintroduced to India it could have significant positive consequences for entire ecosystems.

Being top predators, cheetahs require sustainable populations of prey (mostly small antelope and other animals), which in turn require healthy habitat for their own feeding and breeding. Healthy habitat for cheetahs and their prey benefits a host of plants, insects, birds, and many other species.

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NGS photo by Chris Johns

“The Ministry of Environment and Forests has given a go-ahead to draft a detailed roadmap for the Cheetah Reintroduction Project, proposed by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and endorsed by wildlife experts during the consultative meeting held in Gajner, Rajasthan, last month,” WTI posted on its Web site last week.

“Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, conveyed the Ministry’s decision [on October 6] in a letter addressed to Dr MK Ranjitsinh, Chairman, WTI, who heads the project,” WTI said.

“The Minister approved the recommendation for a detailed survey of potential reintroduction sites in four states, shortlisted during the Gajner consultative meeting. The survey will ascertain which of these sites are most suitable for this endeavour as well as what needs to be done in each of them in preparation for the return of the cheetah.”

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NGS photo by Chris Johns

The survey, that will form the basis for the roadmap, will be carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, in collaboration with the WTI, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the state governments concerned, WTI added.

“We have been given a mandate to prepare this roadmap in four months. The return of the cheetah would make India the only country in the world to host six of the world’s eight large cats and the only one to have all the large cats of Asia. The effort would also ensure conservation action in cheetah habitats in India, which so far, has been severely lacking,” Ranjitsinh said.

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NGS photo by Chris Johns

The meeting in Rajasthan last month debated several issues impacted by cheetah reintroduction, including habitat and prey availability, man-animal conflict, professional project management and source of the reintroduction stock, according to Wildlife Extra, an online wildlife magazine.

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NGS photo by Chris Johns

Ranjitsinh, the WTI chairman, stressed the benefits of cheetah reintroduction to the endangered grassland-woodland habitats of India, Wildlife Extra added. “If the project succeeds, we will not only be returning the species to India, but will also be securing grasslands, which despite being the most productive, are also among the least studied and excessively neglected of Indian habitats, and a number of endangered species that survive within these habitats will also benefit,” he said.

cheetah-photo-6.jpg

NGS photo by Chris Johns

Ranjitsinh told BBC News that the plan is to import African cheetahs and release them in the wild in designated open areas, which have been examined and checked thoroughly. “The plan is to bring cheetahs from the wild in Africa and release them in the wild in India. The cat will help in conserving the ecosystem,” he said.

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NGS photo by Chris Johns 

Big Cats Initiative

From lions in Kenya to snow leopards in the Himalaya, the big cats of the world need help.

BCI-thumb-picture.jpgLions, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars, and other top felines are quickly disappearing, all victims of habitat loss and degradation as well as conflicts with humans.

To address this critical situation, the National Geographic Society has launched the Big Cats Initiative, an emergency intervention to halt the alarming decline of big cats combined with longer-term strategies to restore populations. For more information and to learn how you can help, visit the Big Cats Initative Web site.