From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Asiatic and African Cheetah
Mains level : Translocation of Species and its impacts
The Supreme Court lifted its seven-year stay on a proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an experimental basis. The plan was to revive the Indian cheetah population.
Asiatic cheetahs in India
- In 1947, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh of Deoghar of Koriya, Chhattisgarh — who was infamous for shooting over 1,150 tigers — reportedly killed the last known Asiatic cheetah in India.
- In that year, a few miles from Ramgarh village in the state, the Maharaja killed three of the animals — brothers — during a night drive.
- After that, the Maharaja’s kin continued to report the presence of a few stragglers in the forests of Surguja district, including a pregnant female, up until the late 1960s.
- Some more unconfirmed sightings were reported in 1951 and 1952, from the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border and Chittoor district.
- The latter sighting is generally accepted to be the final credible sighting of a cheetah in India. In 1952, the cheetah was officially declared extinct from India.
African cheetah and Asiatic cheetah
- Before Namibia, India had approached Iran for Asiatic cheetahs, but had been refused.
- The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List, and is believed to survive only in Iran.
- From 400 in the 1990s, their numbers are estimated to have plummetted to 50-70 today, because of poaching, hunting of their main prey (gazelles) and encroachment on their habitat.
- ‘Critically endangered’ means that the species faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
Why does NTCA want to reintroduce cheetahs?
- A section of conservationists has long advocated the reintroduction of the species in the country.
- Reintroductions of large carnivores have increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions.
- The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated, mainly by over-hunting in India in historical times.
- India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as ecological reasons.
Why was the project halted?
- The court was also worried whether the African cheetahs would find the sanctuary a favourable clime as far as abundance of prey is concerned.
- Those who challenged the plan argued that the habitat of cheetahs needed to support a genetically viable population.
What did court say?
- The Supreme Court made it clear that a proper survey should be done to identify the best possible habitat for the cheetahs.
- Every effort should be taken to ensure that they adapt to the Indian conditions.
- The committee would help, advice and monitor the NTCA on these issues. The action of the introduction of the animal would be left to the NTCA’s discretion.