The possibility of the growth of Grasslands, a habitat to most of the animals and protected under Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, offers a glimmer of hope for the country’s wildlife.
India prepares to welcome the world’s fastest land mammal, Cheetah, which was declared regionally extinct 70 years ago. The initial plan is to relocate 35-40 cheetahs from Namibia and South Africa, countries with the world’s highest cheetah population, to six identified sites. These sites are at the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan junction, the landscape of which resembles a semi-arid grassland, much suited for the rehabilitation of the cheetahs.
The six sanctuaries chosen are: Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kuno Palpur National Park, Madhav National Park and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, and Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve and Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan. These sites have been re-assessed by the Wildlife Trust of India. Of these, Kuno Palpur has been identified as being ready for relocation.
Despite such an interesting premise, India’s plan to reintroduce cheetahs may have some repercussions if strict measures are not taken.
Cheetah traverses long distances, up to 1,000 km, in a single year. The designated sanctuaries are quite close-knitted to each other and reports suggest that there is a wildlife functioning corridor. However, unlike African reserve parks, Indian sanctuaries offer less chance for such free movement. This, in turn, is not ideally suited for the mammal’s need to build up speed without having to worry about trees or other obstacles.
Secondly, the authorities need to closely monitor the nearby villages to ensure there is no threat to either the animal or the humans. Also, an upgradation of these sites is required to augment the number of prey animals for the cheetah through translocation of blackbuck, chital, wild boar, etc.
Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time that India has attempted a relocation of the cheetah. Back in the early 1970s, Dr M K Ranjitsinh successfully carried out negotiations with Iran during Indira Gandhi’s tenure. However, owing to the National Emergency in 1975, coupled with the fall of the Shah of Iran, the plan was dropped only to be taken up recently after India’s highest Court gave the Centre a green signal.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, provides absolute protection to plants and animals under Schedule I and Schedule 2, but it overlooks the habitat that is home to most of these protected animals. Thus, this appears like a good opportunity, given the conservation of the cheetah can help revive grasslands and their biomes and habitat much like Project Tiger did for the forests.