Inexperience in handling cheetahs major concern for Project Cheetah at Kuno: Experts

A total of eight cheetahs have died at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh since their relocation from Africa to India in February

Representative image of two cheetahs. (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image of two cheetahs. (photo: Getty Images)

Praveen Dwivedi

While Madhya Pradesh Forest Department officials reiterate the Union Ministry’s line that all cheetah deaths occurred due to “natural causes”, and in fact, have maintained silence after three more felines were suspected to have suffered maggot infections due to GPS-fitted radio collars, experts including retired IFoS officers claim that all is not well with the team appointed for ‘Project Cheetah’ at the Kuno National Park (KNP).

Wildlife experts firmly contend that ‘lack of experience’ in handling cheetahs was persisting since the day the project was introduced.

A retired Indian Forest Service officer, who was associated with Project Cheetah until a couple of months back, said the persons who have been executing the cheetah protocols on ground, like round the clock monitoring, have no experience of handling these big cats.

The officer, who worked as member of Cheetah Task Force Committee, which was later dissolved and replaced with the Project Cheetah Steering Committee a couple of months back, said: “We don’t have expertise on cheetahs and this is a fact, but we have expertise in tigers. I am not questioning senior officials, but those assigned ground level tasks like round the clock monitoring of cheetahs were not even familiar with tigers’ behaviour. The understanding of animals’ behavior is crucial and primary work to handle them. However, later, they were given training at Kuno.”

Citing the first cheetah cheetah death at Kuno, he claimed that Namibian female cheetah Sasha, who died on March 27 or just after a month second batch of cheetahs were released, was subjected to ‘mating’ with a male cheetah forcefully and after that, her behavior was started changing gradually.

“I can’t question the reports that came after her death, but having worked for years, I can say that we were in a hurry to have an Indian-born cheetah. In my view, all the female cheetahs need to be given enough time to adopt the environment here. I believe that forceful mating was a wrong decision, which caused the life of a female cheetah. Such things happened with tigress also,” the retired IFoS officer told IANS.

About radio collars, the officer said the battery-operated GPS have been in use for the last several years here in India and several tigers have been sporting them.

“Earlier, the radio collar used between one and a half to two kg, but new technology has come and light-weight radio collars, up to a half kg, are availables. For more support, satellite collars are being used to monitor the animals. A radio collar is a battery operated system, which provides a signal to locate the animal's whereabouts. It works for two to three years,” the ex-officer added.

Meanwhile, the sources told IANS that Kuno team has started tranquilising cheetahs moving in larger enclosure and have started removing radio collars fitted on their necks.

As per the sources, GPS device was removed from at least four-five cheetahs. A total 10 adult cheetahs were released in larger enclosure at Kuno. IANS made several attempts to know how many cheetahs were exactly tranquilised and their radio collars were removed, however, no response was received from Uttam Sharma, who is in-charge of Project Cheetah at Kuno.

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