The Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh will soon have eight cheetahs that are being relocated from South Africa. Here’s all you need to know about the relocation.
For most of us having grown up watching National Geographic and Discovery Wild, the cheetah – the world’s fastest land animal running up to speeds of 128 km an hour to capture prey – is native to Africa. But there was a time when the cheetah roamed freely in Indian jungles. In the 16th century there were over 10,000 cheetahs in the wild including a 1000 in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. Hunting, diminishing habitat and lack of prey led to the extinction of the cat in India. India’s last spotted cheetah died in Chhattisgarh in 1947 and it was declared extinct in the country in 1952.
Seventy-four years later attempts are being made to reintroduce the cheetah to India. The Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh will soon be home to African cheetahs as part of India’s first inter-country big cat relocation project. This has come about thanks to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) of South Africa that will donate five male cheetahs and three females to India. The translocation of the African cheetah is a part of Government of India’s initiative to reintroduce the cheetah in India after its extinction in the 1950s.
Kuno National Park: The cheetah’s home in India
Kuno was identified as the preferred location for India’s relocation programme as it has large grasslands, ideally suited to the cheetah’s need to build up speed without worrying about trees or other obstructions. The cheetah, which is the fastest animal on land, can sprint at speeds of 80-128 km per hour.
Located in the Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh, the Kuno National Park is spread over an area of 750 sq km. It currently has jackals, spotted deer, sambhar, neelgai, chinkara, wild boar and the four-horned antelope, an ideal prey base for the cheetah.
On their arrival, the animals are proposed to be kept at the enclosure in Mukundara Reserve in Rajasthan, before being shifted to individual reserves. The males will be released first while the females will remain in the enclosure. The females will be released only after the males have settled down. Soft release enclosures of 1 sq. km in area and 2.5 metres in height will be created for the purpose. The cheetahs are likely to be released by November.
The central government has allocated Rs 14 crore for the project. The money will be used for the development of cutting thorny trees, fencing, building cages for the cheetah and transportation of the cheetah from South Africa.
The Supreme Court approved the project in January 2020 and formed a three-member committee for the translocation of the African cheetah from South Africa and Namibia to India.
The expert committee assessed five sites besides Kuno: the Mukundara Tiger Reserve and Shergarh Sanctuary in Rajasthan, the Madhav National Park and the Nauradehi and Gandhi Sagar wildlife sanctuaries in MP — to select a suitable habitat for the cheetah.
The cheetah is considered vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species, with a declining population of less than 7,000 found primarily in African savannas.
If all goes well, we may soon have a small population of cheetahs in India.