BENGALURU – An eighth cheetah demise in India’s Kuno Nationwide Park final Friday has raised new questions on a challenge that reintroduced the massive cats to the nation 10 months in the past and has been mired in controversy since its inception.
The newest demise was attributable to an infestation underneath a cheetah’s radio collar on account of humid and moist climate situations in central India, in keeping with veterinarians from South Africa who’re intently concerned with the challenge.
The Indian authorities mentioned the cheetah deaths being attributable to an an infection underneath their radio collar is “speculation and hearsay.”
Maggot wounds, dehydration, infighting and kidney illness have been a number of the causes of demise of 5 adults and three of the 4 cubs born to a feminine cheetah earlier this 12 months.
Earlier final week, one other grownup cheetah was discovered useless, probably additionally on account of an infestation. Since then, native forest authorities try to tranquilize the remaining cheetahs to verify for any ailments. Native media stories say a number of extra of the animals have comparable infections.
One South African veterinary wildlife specialist who was instrumental to the animals’ relocation mentioned vets had been handled like “window dressing” for the challenge — quite than being consulted about any well being points — till not too long ago.
Adrian Tordiffe mentioned issues modified after Y.V. Jhala, an Indian scientist who devised the reintroduction program, was terminated from his function within the challenge in February.
“Ever since Professor Jhala was suddenly removed from the project, the Indian authorities have completely shut us out,” mentioned Tordiffe. “This lack of information meant the diagnosis was delayed which potentially puts other cheetahs at risk.”
In a press statement last week, India’s environment ministry said consultation with international cheetah experts is done on a regular basis.
Tordiffe said communications between him and other scientists and officials has improved in the last few days.
“It’s important to have a constant line of communication with people in Africa who have expertise with these animals,” mentioned N.V.Okay. Ashraf, chief veterinary officer at Wildlife Belief of India. “The cheetah will be a difficult species to relocate and make a viable population grow.”
The project garnered concern even before the cheetahs’ arrival on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday in September last year when wildlife experts questioned the viability of the animals surviving in India.
Controversies around the project only increased as several of the animals died and many cheetahs strayed outside the national park only to be tranquilized and brought back repeatedly.
India’s grasslands conservation policies — which include the relocation project — are “inadequate,” said Abi T Vanak, of the Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.
The country enacted several conservation laws to protect wildlife in the 1970s, but these were focused on charismatic species like the tiger or elephant, and neither grasslands nor other species dependent on the ecosystem got the same protection.
“Most savannah grasslands continue to be classified as wastelands and that needs to change,” Vanak said. “As things stand, this is shaping up to be a novelty project. Other endangered species could use all this attention and conservation funds.”
Critically endangered species such as the Great Indian Bustard as well as other endangered species such as the black buck or Indian antelope, chinkara or Indian gazelle, the lesser florican and many other wildlife depend on the existence of Indian grasslands for their survival.
The national park where the cheetahs are at was also originally meant as relocation spot for lions from the Gir forest in India’s western Gujarat state.
The lions are the last of the Asiatic lion species that once spread all the way to Iran. Scientists have long warned that the isolated population is at risk of extinction due to threats ranging from disease to climate extremes.
“To me this project is not about conserving cheetahs but rather stalling the translocation of lions,” said Ravi Chellam, a wildlife biologist and conservation scientist with more than four decades of experience with big cats.
In April 2013, India’s top court ordered that some lions from the Gir forest should be moved to Kuno National Park further inland within six months. The court also ruled that introducing African cheetahs to Kuno before the Asiatic lion is arbitrary and illegal and a clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under India’s wildlife protection act.
The lions remain in Gujarat and plans are being reviewed.
Tordiffe, the South African veterinarian, is still optimistic about the cheetah project and said some deaths are to be expected.
“By no means are we at a critical level yet where the project is doomed to failure. But there are certainly areas where we must improve in terms of active management and if we do so, I still believe that the project can succeed,” he said.
There are less than 7,000 adult cheetahs left in the wild globally, and they now inhabit less than 9% of their original range.
Speaking to The Associated Press in September last year, Vincent van der Merwe, manager of the Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative said the long-term goal was to have a cheetah population of at least 500 which meant sending up to a dozen animals every year to India from South Africa.
But at least 4,000 square kilometers of good quality habitat needs to be prepared before any more cheetahs are brought into India, Chellam said. The Kuno national park is 748 square kilometers.
“Lessons need to be learnt from the experience so far, so that we don’t lose more animals,” he said.
Associated Press writer Aniruddha Ghosal in Hanoi, Vietnam contributed to this report.
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