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Cheetah chatter

With Sasha, Uday and Daksha dead, a shadow has been cast on the cheetah reintroduction project. As for India’s original cheetah citizens, they exist only in paintings and court lore

Upala Sen Published 14.05.23, 03:46 AM
Of the 20 cheetahs brought over from Africa last year, now only 17 remain.

Of the 20 cheetahs brought over from Africa last year, now only 17 remain. File Picture

Once upon a time, India had a proud population of the Asiatic cheetah. In The Metropolitan Museum Art, New York, US, there is a painting that shows Shah Jahan on horseback hunting with his men. The targeted prey is deer and the hound equivalent is the cheetah. The painting made at the Mewar court of Rajasthan in the early 18th century shows the polka dotted animals with a red collar each. The tip of each cheetah’s tail is black. Shah Jahan ruled a century before that. The Met also has in its collection a folio from a manuscript of the Akbarnama. The early 17h century painting shows Akbar hunting with cheetahs. Yet another representation shows Mah Laqa Bai Chanda from the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad travelling with two pet cheetahs. That would be the early 19th century.

Cat Kit


It appears that Akbar was the original cheetah enthusiast. He got his first cheetah, Fatehbaz, at 12. During his reign, by his encouragement, a lot of effort went into trapping cheetahs. New techniques were developed so that the animals came to least harm and could be gradually trained for the hunt. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a drawing that shows Akbar’s son, Salim, helping capture a cheetah. The prince is kneeling and holding the blindfolded cheetah’s head, while two of his men are holding the beast’s legs. Historians note how Akbar’s collection of cheetahs was arranged by category, each with its distinctive dietary rules. There were at least four persons to train each cheetah and training usually took three months. The animals had names such as Madan Kali and Citranjan and the most favoured ones were carried about in a palanquin. Akbar was on an expedition to Bihar, when the boat carrying his cheetahs Daulat Khan and Dilrang Khan capsized and the duo drowned.

Wild Card

Akbar possibly captured his first cheetah in Hissar and the moment was captured by court painters. Abul Fazl chronicles an incident wherein Citranjan chased a blackbuck and hunted it down with such skill and flourish that a tickled emperor named him chief cheetah. Nearly 200 years later, Governor General of Madras, George Pigot, presented a cheetah from India to George III. Upon learning that the Mughal royalty used cheetahs for hunting, George III’s uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, decided to test it. In the face-off between the cheetah and a stag, the cheetah fared poorly. As one newspaper reported, the stag was awarded a silver collar and thereafter declared immune to all kinds of chase. These were all Asiatic cheetahs. Last week, Daksha, the female cheetah from Africa, died in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh after two male cheetahs, allowed into the same enclosure for mating, turned violent. In Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri, Jahangir observes: “It is an established fact that cheetahs in unaccustomed places do not pair off with a female. My revered father had many times coupled male and female cheetah in the gardens, but there too it did not come off…” Jahangir also records the only exception to this rule and how the fruitful encounter produced three cubs. Of the 20 cheetahs brought over from Africa last year, now only 17 remain.

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