Context: It is almost three months since South Africa sent a batch of 12 cheetahs to India and two have already died.
Aim of the Project Cheetah: To establish a sustainable population of about 35 cheetahs in the next decade by bringing in a few every year from Africa.
Why in News?
- India’s Project Cheetah aims to establish a sustainable population of about 35 cheetahs in the next decade by bringing in a few every year from Africa.
- It is almost three months since South Africa sent a batch of 12 cheetahs to India and two have already died.
- Taken along with the death of one of the eight cheetahs from Namibia — it had a pre-existing renal infection — and it emerges that about 15% of the animals have not made it past the first phase of India’s ambitious Project Cheetah.
- It is implicit that there will be many deaths among the animals if one factor in both the natural lifespan of the cat as well as the challenges of adapting to Indian conditions.
- Daksha, one of the female cheetahs, died from injuries following a violent mating attempt by two males — again not entirely unexpected from what is known about the predator’s behaviour.
Ordinarily, the success of wildlife breeding programmes must be measured over longer intervals. The increase in the lion population in Gir, Gujarat, as well as tiger numbers have been the result of sustained efforts over decades, that have also seen the wildcat count dip to precipitous levels. Therefore, it is yet premature to weigh in on the success of the cheetah translocation programme. However, the arrival of the cheetahs in India was far from an ordinary event. For one, it capped decades of government planning undertaken since 2009, hearings in the Supreme Court, protracted negotiations with two countries, the complex logistics of choosing and ferrying the animals, the Prime Minister’s personal involvement in the enterprise, as well as the significant publicity effort by government departments to promote the endeavour as India’s exemplary commitment to wildlife conservation. It is thus only natural that three deaths in three months raise consternation on whether the conservation approach adopted by experts is based on sound principles. There is criticism that Kuno National Park is inadequate to host 20 cheetahs and that some ought to be in other sanctuaries. The existing batch of animals lived far too long in captivity (in preparation for the translocation) and thus were excessively stressed and more vulnerable, the argument goes.
Measuring the Success of Wildlife Breeding Programs:
- The success of wildlife breeding programs cannot be measured over short intervals. It takes sustained efforts over decades to see significant changes in population numbers.
- The increase in the lion population in Gir, Gujarat, as well as tiger numbers have been the result of sustained efforts over decades, that have also seen the wildcat count dip to precipitous levels.
- However, the success of breeding programs is also dependent on several factors, including adequate habitat, genetic diversity, and protection from poaching and other threats.
- Conservation efforts must also adapt to changing conditions and incorporate new scientific knowledge.
- India’s Project Cheetah is a high-profile conservation initiative aimed at reintroducing a species that went extinct in the country decades ago.
- The recent deaths of three cheetahs have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the conservation approach adopted by experts.
- While it is still too early to judge the success of the program, it is essential that project managers adhere to clearly defined criteria with timelines to decide if a course correction is needed.
- The success of wildlife breeding programs depends on several factors, and conservation efforts must be adaptable and based on sound scientific principles.