African cheetahs in Kuno-Palpur: Have we assessed disease risks well

Source: Down to Earth

What is the news?

The forest minister of Madhya Pradesh had announced in July that 10 male and 10 female cheetahs will be flown from South Africa to Gwalior in two phases in November. They will then be sent by road to the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.

Background

After the Supreme court order permitting introduction of African Cheetah last year, the recent announcement by the Forest Minister of Madhya Pradesh to begin the process from November this year has raised various concerns, particularly about disease risk.

  • Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952 after extensive hunting wiped out their populations.
What is the disease risk?

When animals are being introduced to a landscape, there is a risk of disease spread to both the individual animals that are being introduced and to other wildlife species which inhabit the site chosen for reintroduction.

Concerns
  • During transit, the stress of unfamiliar or unnatural conditions of confinement increases disease risk because of poor transport containers, inadequate disease prevention protocols and long duration of travel.
  • They may be exposed to local diseases such as CDV (Canine Distemper Virus), feline infectious peritonitis and infection from the feline leukaemia virus.
  • These cheetahs could also pose a risk of diseases such as prion disease to other animals.
    • A prion is a type of protein that can trigger normal proteins in the brain to fold abnormally. Prion diseases can affect both humans and animals.

Way forward

India needs thorough disease screening processes and protocols for managing threats from infections as part of the cheetah re-introduction plans. Such processes and protocols may increase the time, but they are necessary to address disease risk.

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