AHMEDABAD: The Centre wants the cheetah, the fastest land animal on the earth, to re-enter India and settle down in Gujarat; but the state’s silence has put the proposal on the snail’s pace track.
The last cheetah sighted in India died in 1947 in what is now Chhattisgarh. The animal was officially noted as extinct in the country in 1952.
The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change, through the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), had mooted the introduction of the cheetah into Banni grasslands and the Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat. But the state government has not yet responded to the NTCA or the committee appointed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had in January last year formed the three-member committee. It comprised the former director of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Ranjit Singh; the DG of the WII, Dhananjay Mohan; and the DIG, wildlife, of the Union ministry of environment and forest. The committee’s role was to ‘guide’ the NTCA in the cheetah reintroduction project.
Singh, who heads the committee, said: “The ministry has written to the Gujarat government seeking its opinion about the cheetah introduction.” Singh added: “However, we have not got any response so far from Gujarat.”
A senior forest department official said that since Gujarat has not responded, the WII and the Wildlife Trust of India may consider Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh as a site to accommodate cheetahs in India.
Officials said that the feasibility report titled ‘Assessing the Potential for Reintroducing the Cheetah in India’ had been prepared by Dr Y V Jhala, a senior scientist at the WII, and his team. Subsequently, it was decided that cheetahs will be obtained from Iran, Namibia, and South Africa. Initially, the central government plans to bring 18 cheetahs from the three countries.
The report said that 10 sites were assessed for the purpose. The sites lie in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
“The Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of the Sheopur-Shivpuri forested landscape, had the second largest area (6,800 sq km) among the surveyed sites,” said a WII Official. “This site is rated high on the priority list for considering the reintroduction of the cheetah because several restorative investments have already been made here for introducing Asiatic lions.”
Nauradehi Forest Sanctuary in MP and the Shahgarh area in Rajasthan are among the other contenders on the list of sites.
A Gujarat forest official said that cheetahs need open spaces. “They are comfortable in grasslands and Banni seems to be the best place for them in Gujarat.” The official added: “Besides, it also includes the Kalo Dungar area, which has a good number of jackals.”
At present, the Banni grasslands have a prey base of 10-12 animals per sq km. To facilitate the return of the cheetahs, the Gujarat government will have to immediately start breeding chitals and sambars to increase the prey base, the official said. Cheetahs need a prey base of about 30 animals per sq km.
WII officials said that in Banni grasslands, the wild prey concentration is extremely low as of now. However, the official said, the area has potential and with restoration, livestock grazing management, and law enforcement it could support over 50 cheetahs. “If the Gujarat government takes serious steps to restore this landscape, then the site could be re-evaluated at a later date,” the official said. But at present, the state government does not seem too keen to take up the project.