Bhopal, Aug 25: Come December and the forests of Madhya Pradesh might just get resounding with the yowls of cheetahs. That’s when the state government will bring in six of these slender felines – the first in a lot of 60 – from Africa.
Cheetahs are extinct in India, but now they will roam the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheopur district.
‘The Palpur-Kuno has been selected for Project Cheetah and in the first lot, six (both male and female) cheetahs would be brought from South Africa,’ Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Sartaj Singh told IANS.
The cheetah, said to be the world’s fastest animal, was once found in good numbers in India, but has been non-existent in the country since 1940. It is found in Africa and the Middle East.
The cheetah can run at speeds between 112 and 120 km per hour (70 and 75 metre per hour). With black stripes running from the eyes to the mouth, a long tale and a tawny gold spotted coat, the animal is a picture of grace, particularly when in motion.
The ancient history of India is filled with stories and pictures in which cheetahs have been shown in the company of goddesses and kings. The project to reintroduce it in India is in its final stages.
Soon there will be 60 of them in the state, said minister Singh.
‘The place was finalized by the Wildlife Institute of India and it is found to be a suitable habitat for cheetahs in every sense,’ said Singh.
The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary has been found to be the most suitable for the breeding of cheetah in the country. Spread across 344.686 square km area, the sanctuary was established in 1981.
It is home to many animals like leopards, wolves, nilgai and monkeys among others.
Madhya Pradesh has six tiger reserves, nine national parks and 23 wildlife sanctuaries. It now has 257 tigers, down by 43 from the 300 it had in 2006. But the causes for the reduction in tiger population vary from poaching, the man-animal conflict and natural deaths.
Conservationists are therefore sceptical of the plan to bring in cheetahs.
Ajay Dubey, a wildlife activist. told IANS: ‘During the rule of kings, it was hunting that led to the death of tigers; now poaching is the main cause. The most important question is: did the Madhya Pradesh government learn any lesson from the loss of tigers in the state?’
‘Is the state ready for 60 cheetahs? Mindless tourism is the focus of Madhya Pradesh wildlife officials and no accountability has been fixed.’
‘The Sariska Task Force constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had suggested that accountability should be fixed on officials for the loss of tigers, but it did not happen in Madhya Pradesh. How will the new project produce good results?’ asks the wildlife activist.
Former minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh had informed the Rajya Sabha in 2009 of reintroducing the cheetah in the country.
While addressing the Upper House, Ramesh had accepted, ‘The cheetah is the only animal that has been described as extinct in India in the last 100 years. We have to get them from abroad to repopulate the species.’
(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)