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Ministry of Environment and Forests28-July, 2010 18:44 IST
Three Sites Recommended for Reintroduction of Cheetah
Wildlife Institute of India and the Wildlife Trust of India recommends three sites to introduce cheetah in India. Submitting its feasibility report on ‘Assessing the Potential for Reintroducing the Cheetah in India’, Dr Y V Jhala, Senior scientists, Wildlife Institute of India said here today said, “Reintroductions of large carnivores have increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions. The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated, mainly by over-hunting in India in historical times. India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as ecological reasons. With this context, a consultative meeting of global experts was held at Gajner in September, 2009. A consensus was reached at this meeting for conducting a detailed survey in selected sites to explore the potential of reintroducing the cheetah in India.”

Shri Jairam ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests said, “It is important to bring cheetah back to our country. Cheetah has become extinct since one thousand years. It has not been seen since 1967.This is perhaps the only mammal whose name has been derived from Sanskrit language. It comes from the word chitraku which means spots.Cheetah will restore grasslands of India which will be followed byrestoration of many other endangered animals. The way tiger restores forest ecosystem, snow leopard restores mountain ecosystem, Gangetic dolphin restores waters in the rivers, and the same way cheetah will resore grasslands of the country.”

Cheetah will be obtained from Middle East where North African Cheetah are bred, Iran, Namibia and South Africa. Initially 18 cheetah will be brought to three proposed sites.Dr RanjeetSingh and Dr Divyabhanu Singh were also present.

The Report says the 10 sites have been assessed from seven landscapes located in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for their potential to harbour viable reintroduced cheetah populations. Field surveys were carried out to collect data on prey abundances, local community dependencies on forest resources and their attitudes towards wildlife, and use remotely sensed data to assess habitat size. The current and potential carrying capacity of the sites to support cheetah have been computed as well as the team has assessed the long-term viability of the introduced population, using Population Habitat Viability Analysis.

The Report says amongst the seven surveyed landscapes, the landscape that contained Sanjay National Park, Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary and Guru Ghasidas National Park was the largest, covering over 12,500 km2 . It is in this landscape that the cheetah continued to survive till after India’s Independence. However, today this landscape is characterised by low prey densities, probably due to poaching by tribal communities that reside within the protected areas. The three protected areas were currently estimated to have the capacity to support about 14 cheetah. With restorative and managerial inputs under the Project Tiger scheme available for Sanjay National Park and Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary, these protected areas are likely to improve and could potentially support over 30 cheetah, while the landscape could hold upto 60 individuals We recommend that Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh also be considered under the Project Tiger scheme as it is well connected with Sanjay National Park and Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary. We recommend that this landscape be restored and re-evaluated before considering cheetah reintroduction here in the future.

Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary is a part of the Sheopur-Shivprti forested landscape, which had the second largest area (6,800 km2) amongst the surveyed sites. This site was rated high on the priority list for considering the reintroduction of the cheetah, because a lot of restorative investment has already been made here for introducing the Asiatic lions. The Protected Area was estimated to have a current capacity to sustain 27 cheetah, which could be enhanced to over 32 individuals by addition of some more forested areas (120 km2) to the Kuno Sanctuary and managing the surrounding 3,000 establishes itself within the Sanctuary, dispersers would not preclude the reintroduction of the lion once the cheetah population is established and the two introductions would complement each other. Indeed, Kuno offers the prospect of all the four large forest felids of India to coexist as they did in the past.

The Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary (1197 km2) in Madhya Pradesh is part of a forested landscape of 5,500 km2. Cheetah prey densities were reasonable in this area and the site was considered favourable to be considered for a reintroduction. Based on current prey densities the area could support 25 cheetah. We recommend the designation of 750 km2 as a core area of the sanctuary and relocate about 23 human settlements from the core with generous and adequate compensation. Our assessment indicates that the local communities would prefer to relocate for better livelihood and modern facilities. The site could then support over 50 cheetah as a source population, while the Nauradehi landscape could harbour over 70 individuals.

Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh and Bagdara Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh formed a continuous habitat. However, potential cheetah habitat in this area was small ( less than 500 km2) , as much of the land is under agriculture. Though the prey densities were reasonably high due to good management and law enforcement, the site was not considered further due to its small size and it was likely to have a high level of conflict with an introduced cheetah population.

The Shahgarh landscape on the international border in Jaislmer district of Rajasthan was found to be suitable for introducing cheetah. As the area is fenced along the international border, we propose to additionally fence off the bulge area by constructing another 140 km long chain-link fence, so as to encompass about 4000 km2 of xerophytic habitat. Within this area about 80 seasonally used human settlements, each having 5-10 households, would need to be relocated with adequate and generous compensation and alternate arrangements provided. Though the prey species diversity was less (primarily chinkara) in Shahgarh, the area could currently support about 15 cheetah and had the potential to sustain 40 cheetah with habitat management within the large fanced ecosystem.

Desert National Park in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, was reasonably large (3162 km2) with a fairly good prey availability. However, the area is heavily grazed by livestock and is the last stronghold for the great Indian bustard. The introduced cheetah are likely to come into severe conflict with local communities and may be a potential threat to the endangered great Indian bustard. For this reason the Desert National Park was not considered ideal for cheetah reintroduction.

Banni grasslands and Kachchh Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat cover a vast arid landscape of which over 5800 km2 could be considered as potential cheetah habitat. The wild prey abundance was extremely low with no current potential for considering introduction of a large carnivore. However, the area has potential and with restoration, livestock grazing management and law enforcement the area could bounce back and could potentially support over 50 cheetah. If the Gujarat Government takes serious steps to restore this landscape, than the site could be re-evaluated at a later date.

Based on these assessment, Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India recommend that cheetah could potentially be reintroduced at Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctrary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary , both in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh Landscape in Jaisalmer,, Rajasthan. All the three site require preparation and resource investments to commence and introduction program. Long-term commitment of political will, resources and personnel is required from the Central and State Governments to implement this project successfully.

Depending on the availability of suitable animals and a continued supply, they also propose to source cheetah from sites in Africa, collaboration with the Government of Iran and the world conservation community in assisting with the conservation of the Iranian cheetah, so as to reduce its risk of extinction and to re-establish viable wild populations.

Cheetah reintroduction would greatly enhance tourism prospects, especially at the sites, the cascading effect of which would benefit the local communities. Cheetah as a flagship would evoke a greater focus on the predicament of the much abused dry-land ecosystems and the need to manage them, which would benefit pastoralism in India where the largest livestock population in the world resides, the large majority of it being free-ranging.

The venture must be viewed not viewed not simply as an introduction of a species, however charismatic it may be, but as an endeavour to better manage and restore some of our most valuable yet most neglected ecosystems and the species dependent upon them.

KP
(Release ID :63704)

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