From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Asiatic Cheetah
Mains level : Not Much
India’s ambitious project to translocate African cheetahs has missed an unofficial deadline of August 15.
- Cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal was declared extinct in India in 1952.
- The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List, and is believed to survive only in Iran.
- It was expected to be re-introduced into the country after the Supreme Court lifted curbs for its re-introduction.
Distribution of cheetahs in India
- Historically, Asiatic cheetahs had a very wide distribution in India.
- There are authentic reports of their occurrence from as far north as Punjab to Tirunelveli district in southern Tamil Nadu, from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west to Bengal in the east.
- Most of the records are from a belt extending from Gujarat passing through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
- There is also a cluster of reports from southern Maharashtra extending to parts of Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
- The distribution range of the cheetah was wide and spread all over the subcontinent. They occurred in substantial numbers.
- The cheetah’s habitat was also diverse, favouring the more open habitats: scrub forests, dry grasslands, savannahs and other arid and semi-arid open habitats.
What caused the extinction of cheetahs in India?
- The major reasons for the extinction of the Asiatic cheetah in India:
- Reduced fecundity and high infant mortality in the wild
- Inability to breed in captivity
- Sport hunting and
- Bounty killings
- It is reported that the Mughal Emperor Akbar had kept 1,000 cheetahs in his menagerie and collected as many as 9,000 cats during his half-century reign from 1556 to 1605.
- The cheetah numbers were fast depleting by the end of the 18th century even though their prey base and habitat survived till much later.
- It is recorded that the last cheetahs were shot in India in 1947, but there are credible reports of sightings of the cat till about 1967.
Conservation objectives for their re-introduction
- Based on the available evidence it is difficult to conclude that the decision to introduce the African cheetah in India is based on science.
- Science is being used as a legitimising tool for what seems to be a politically influenced conservation goal.
- This also in turn sidelines conservation priorities, an order of the Supreme Court, socio-economic constraints and academic rigour.
- The issue calls for an open and informed debate.
Issues in re-introduction
- Experts find it difficult whether the African cheetahs would find the sanctuary a favorable climate as far as the abundance of prey is concerned.
- The habitat of cheetahs is needed to support a genetically viable population.