Bhopal: The death of six cheetahs, including three newborn cubs, within a period of two and half months at Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park (KNP) has prompted the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to form a high-level screening committee for the Centre’s ambitious ‘Project Cheetah’.
The NTCA – the nodal agency of the project – on Thursday formed a screening committee comprising of 11 members, headed by Dr. Rajesh Gopal, Secretary General of Global Tiger Forum and R. N. Mehrotra, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forest of Rajasthan.
The other nine members in the screening committee include P.R. Sinha, former Director of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), H.S. Negi, former APCCF, Wildlife, and P.K Malik, former facility of the WII. Negi and Malik are also the members of the NTCA.
G.S Rawat, former Dean of the WII, Mittal Patel, an Ahmedabad-based social worker, Qamar Qureshi, WII scientist and Inspector General of NTCA, Shubhoranjan Sen a wildlife expert and the MP’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife, and Chief Wildlife Warden are the other members.
The committee, tasked to review the progress of cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa, will “be in-force for a period of two years and will hold at least one meeting every month, besides taking field visits as and when required. The committee will also take decision on opening cheetah habitat for ecotourism and will suggest regulations in this regard. The Committee will also empowered to invite wildlife experts for consultation,” the NTCA said in a notification issued hours after two more cubs of Namibian cheetah Jwala died on Thursday.
Four cheetah cubs were born in India to the translocated wild cats after a gap of seven decades, after the fastest moving animal on earth was officially declared extinct in the country, but three have died now while the health of remaining one has also deteriorated.
According to the MP Forest Department sources, the day (May 23) the youngest and weakest among the four siblings died, was the hottest day of this summer season, when the maximum temperature was recorded in the range of 46-47 degree Celsius.
A team which was continuously monitoring Namibian female Siyaya/Jwala (which was on supplement food during day time) and three surviving cubs, found that the condition of the three cubs wasn’t normal. The three cubs were rescued and put under dedicated treatment of vets, but despite all efforts two of the three surviving cubs couldn’t be saved.
“The lone surviving cub too is stated critical and under round-the-clock intensive medical care at the park’s hospital, where its condition is being stabilised. While the only surviving cub is being treated by vets at KNP hospital in consultation with Namibian and South African experts, its mother cheetah is stated to be healthy, but is under continuous monitoring,” a Forest Department statement said.
The cheetah cubs, which were around eight weeks old, were weak and also dehydrated (perhaps due to extreme heat wave conditions). The mother cheetah, which was a hand reared cheetah from Namibia, had conceived for the first time. The cubs had started walking with their mother since the last 8-10 days only.
On March 27, adult female Namibian cheetah Sasha had succumbed to severe renal infections, on April 23, male South African cheetah Uday died due to cardiopulmonary failure, and 16 days later, South African female cheetah Daksha died reportedly due to injuries sustained during violent mating by male coalition Vayu and Agni.
Eventually, the present cheetah count at the KNP now stands at 18, including one cub, which battles for life at the hospital. Out of 17 adults, seven are Namibians and 10 South African.
As part of the Narendra Modi government’s ambitious project of reintroducing cheetahs in Indian wilds, seven decades after they went officially extinct in the same land due to rampant hunting, the first set of 8 Namibian cheetahs were flown from Namibia to India on the PM’s 72nd birthday on September 17, 2022. The same day, the PM released them at KNP in MP’s Sheopur district.
Five months later, on February 18, 12 South African cheetahs were released into the KNP.