Cheetah deaths are a setback for the reintroduction project but they do not signal a failure

Source– The post is based on the article “Cheetah deaths are a setback for the reintroduction project but they do not signal a failure” published in “The Indian Express” on 5th August 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Environment

Relevance: Issues related to Wildlife conservation.

News– The cheetah was reintroduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2022, reinforcing the government’s commitment to conserving our natural heritage.

Which factors led to the reintroduction of cheetahs in India?

Unlike tigers, leopards and lions, the cheetah hunts by chasing its prey. Therefore, it removes the sick, old, as well as young from the population. It ensures the survival of the fittest and keeps the prey population healthy.

Several ecosystems in India do not have tigers. Cheetahs could serve as a flagship for conservation there.

What is the way forward for successful reintroduction of locally extinct species like Cheetahs?

There is a need to incentivize voluntary relocation of communities, similar to practices observed in tiger reserves.

These efforts require a sustained allocation of resources to at least three to five sites over the long term, spanning 25 to 30 years.

Most forest communities prefer to integrate into mainstream society, as it grants them access to various amenities and opportunities.

By implementing schemes prudently, the local people can benefit from community-based ecotourism, and an increase in real estate activities. These direct economic benefits can significantly contribute to the well-being of the local communities.

A scheme is needed which can compensate for livestock predation and is transparent. If people benefit economically from having cheetahs in their neighborhood, they will be more tolerant towards the animals. Example is Saurashtra.

India has approximately one lakh square kilometers of protected areas within the historic range of the cheetah.

However, individual protected areas alone are insufficient to support a viable cheetah population in the long run. There is a need to adopt innovative approaches and manage cheetah populations from these sites as a metapopulation.

This involves artificially moving animals between sites, ensuring demographic and genetic viability.

Once the cheetah population reaches a sustainable level, they will naturally disperse and expand into larger landscapes dominated by human presence.

This natural dispersal may lead to the exchange of individuals between various conservation sites. However, each of these sites would require significant investment, ranging from Rs 250 to 500 crore, for restoration as functional ecosystems.

Why is there reason for some hope regarding reintroduction of cheetahs?

Critics pointed out that Cheetahs will have difficulty in killing deer, they will be trapped by poachers, killed by leopards and village dogs. Cheetah mortality was anticipated. But, no cheetah has died of any of these causes.

Some deaths were management related within enclosed protected bomas.

Some cheetahs died due to septicemia caused by skin lesions that got infected by maggots. Southern Africa currently has a cold dry winter. Their physiological cycle is still tuned to the photoperiod of Southern latitudes.

In Kuno, they experienced a hot and humid climate. Their winter fur accumulated moisture and the radio collars aggravated the condition making their skin itchy and delicate. Scratching resulted in wounds that were infected by maggots.

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