New home for African cheetah in India and its Chhattisgarh connection!

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(Photo: Reuters)

After almost seven years, the Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted its stay on a proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an experimental basis. With India’s own cheetahs vanishing, a plea for this had been filed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), seeking permission to introduce the African cheetah.

Removing the stay, the Supreme Court Bench decided to set up a three-member committee, comprising former director Wildlife Institute of India Ranjit Singh, DG of Wildlife Institute of India Dhananjay Mohan, and DIG, Wildlife, Ministry of Environment and Forests to ensure NTCA take all necessary precautions while implementing this plan. The Supreme Court has directed to conduct a proper survey to identify the best possible habitat for the cheetahs. Every effort should be taken to ensure that they adapt to the Indian conditions. Chief Justice Bobde, speaking for the Bench, also directed the committee to file a progress report every four months. 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.

In May 2012, the apex court had stalled the plan to initiate the foreign cheetahs into the Palpur Kino sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh fearing they may come into conflict with a parallel project to reintroduce lions into the same sanctuary. The court was also worried whether the African cheetahs would find the sanctuary a favourable climate as far as abundance of prey is concerned. However, on Tuesday, a Bench led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde gave the go ahead to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to take the plunge and bring the African cat to India.

Hunting of the last Asiatic cheetah in the forests of Koriya, Chhattisgarh

Maharajas in Central India have always been notorious for shikaars. 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.

Hopefully, this new strategy to conserve threatened species and restore the ecosystem brings back the Asiatic cheetahs in this world.

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