Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Re-introducing African Cheetahs to India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Asiatic Cheetah

Mains level: Wildlife re-introduction and issues

The cheetah, which became extinct in India after Independence, is all set to return with the Union Government launching an action plan in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

According to the plan, about 50 of these big cats will be introduced in the next five years, from the Africa savannas, home to cheetahs, an endangered species.

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:
  1. Reduced fecundity and high infant mortality in the wild
  2. Inability to breed in captivity
  3. Sport hunting and
  4. 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.

What is the officially stated goal?

  • To establish viable cheetah meta-population in India that allows the cheetah to perform its functional role as a top predator
  • To provide space for the expansion of the cheetah within its historical range thereby contributing to its global conservation efforts

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 needed to support a genetically viable population.

Back2Basics: Asiatic Cheetah

  • 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.
  • From 400 in the 1990s, their numbers are estimated to have reached to 50-70 today, because of poaching, hunting of their main prey (gazelles) and encroachment on their habitat.


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