1-year report card of Project Cheetah: 9 big cats dead, 15 survive
A single cub survives, with officials pinning their hopes on it for the big cat's future in India — a fresh batch is expected at Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary by the end of 2023
India’s ‘Project Cheetah’ completed one year on Sunday, 17 September 2023.
The first batch of eight Namibian cheetahs was released in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park (KNP) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his own birthday on 17 September 2022.
With 12 more cheetahs brought from South Africa on 18 February, a total of 20 of the world's fastest-running felines were released in Kuno, with the purpose of allowing them to breed in the wild in India.
The plan saw its first success when Namibian female cheetah Siyaya gave birth to four cubs in March this year.
However, three out of the four cubs died in May of heatstroke and malnutrition. The lone surviving female cheetah cub is now healthy, officials from Kuno say.
'Having spent more than 100 days in close proximity to her mother, the cub has exhibited remarkable vitality, steadily gaining weight and following a standard growth trajectory,' said the Kuno authority recently through an official communication. 'Born on Indian soil, this young cheetah holds the promise of a brighter future for cheetah conservation in the country.'
However, the project also witnessed back-to-back jolts, as one after the other, many of the cheetahs died, raising apprehensions on feasibility and due diligence, in turn feeding political controversy in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.
A total of nine cheetahs, including three cubs, have died between March and August.
The project witnessed its first setback when Namibian female cheetah Sasha succumbed to a kidney-related ailment on 27 March.
Two male African cheetahs, Uday and Daksha, died on 13 April and 9 May respectively.
More shocks for the project came when two more male cheetahs, Tejas and Suraj, died within a span of one week in July.
Namibian female cheetah Dhatri was found dead on 2 August.
Since then, two pieces of good news have come out of Kuno: first, that the female cheetah Nirva, who had gone off radar, was found, captured and returned to safe enclosure, and also that the lone surviving cub born on Indian soil is healthy now.
On the eve of the first anniversary of Project Cheetah, the Kuno authority released a video of the 'success story' and praised the efforts of the forest guards deployed to monitor the felines:
'It’s been an amazing ride as we get ready to mark a year since the incredible reintroduction of cheetahs, the impact has been astounding, from revitalising ecosystems to inspiring local communities,' the official release said.
If authorities continue to proceed according to plan, cheetahs would be introduced at two more habitats in Madhya Pradesh — Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary.
Additional director general of forests at the environment ministry SP Yadav recently told the media that the next batch of cheetahs is be imported from South Africa and introduced into Madhya Pradesh's Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary by the end of this year.
“We are preparing two such sites in Madhya Pradesh — one is the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary — and the other is Nauradehi,” he added.