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regular-article-logo Monday, 15 April 2024

India’s cheetah introduction project suffers another blow, 10th adult dies in Kuno

The state forest department said the Namibian cheetah named Shaurya died around 3.17pm after it failed to respond to efforts at cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The cheetah was among the eight flown in from Namibia in September 2022

G.S. Mudur New Delhi Published 17.01.24, 05:48 AM
A cheetah at the Kuno National Park

A cheetah at the Kuno National Park File picture

India’s cheetah introduction project lost its 10th cheetah on Tuesday with a Namibian adult held behind a fenced enclosure in the Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, dying hours after being found unwell.

The state forest department said the Namibian cheetah named Shaurya died around 3.17pm after it failed to respond to efforts at cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The cheetah was among the eight flown in from Namibia in September 2022.

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Wildlife staff had around 11am tranquilised the cheetah and brought it in for treatment after observing that the animal displayed a lack of coordination and a staggering gait.

“The animal was tranquilised and weakness (was) found. Following this, the animal was revived but complications arose and the animal failed to respond to cardiopulmonary resuscitation,” the forest department said in a statement. “The cause of death can be ascertained after the post-mortem.”

The Union environment ministry’s cheetah introduction project seeks to establish clusters of wild cheetah populations in open forest and grassland sites in the country. India had declared the cheetah extinct in 1952 after the last Indian cheetahs had been hunted and killed in 1947.

In addition to the eight cheetahs from Namibia flown into Kuno in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the environment ministry also brought 12 cheetahs from South Africa in February 2023. The 20 cheetahs were to serve as the founders of the cheetah population in the country.

But six adults and three of the four cubs born in Kuno in March 2023 had died by July 2023. Wildlife officials had attributed the cub deaths to heat and dehydration and cheetah specialists had attributed the deaths of at least two adults to maggot infestation and infection near collars on their necks.

Experts tracking India’s cheetah introduction project said the circumstances of Shaurya’s death on Tuesday as described by the forest department appeared to have similarities to the death of a South African male cheetah named Uday in April 2023.

Uday had also been observed on the morning of April 23 last year to be moving in an uncoordinated manner before dying that afternoon. Wildlife biologists in India and foreign experts who have guided the project have said Uday’s death remains unexplained.

After each cheetah death in Kuno last year, project officials had asserted that theloss of cheetahs, while unfortunate, should not be viewed as setbacks to the project’s long-term objectives of establishing self-sustaining wild cheetah populations in the country.

Some officials guiding the project have also cited the births of cubs in Kuno as a measure of success. The environment ministry earlier this month announced the birth of three more cubs — after the four born in March 2023.

But the project’s critics — some of whom have called it a “vanity project” — view the cheetahs’ prolonged periods of captivity within fenced areas in Kuno as an indicator that the project has not proceeded as had been planned.

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