• Home
  • |
  • About Us
  • |
  • Contact Us
  • |
  • Login
  • Subscribe

African big cats new habitat at Kuno-Palpur National Park

  • Written By अनुभा जैन, लेखिका पत्रकार on Tuesday, January 21,2022

-After more than 70 years African Cheetahs are returning to India through the ‘Project Cheetah’ program

- ‘Project Cheetah’ where cheetahs from Namibia have been brought to India is the world's first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project where a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. The project would create wonders for ecotourism.

On the way to becoming India’s second home for the Asiatic lion, Kuno-Palpur National Park situated in the Chambal region of Sheopur district in Madhya Pradesh, now coming up as the abode of African Cheetahs as well. Established in 1981 as a wildlife sanctuary, it was given the status of a national park in 2018. The national park is spread over a forest area of 748 sq. km. with more than 450 sq. km. buffer area. Kuno National Park is the only national park globally where all four big cats are found together in one place, viz., lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs.

As the Kuno National Park has diverse habitats conducive to lions and cheetahs, and hence, under Project Cheetah for bringing African Cheetahs here in Kuno an MoU was signed between India and the Namibian governments. In this series, PM Narendra Modi released eight cheetahs to the enclosures inside Kuno National Park for almost a month on Sept. 17th, 2022, on his birthday. Eight Cheetahs including five of which were female were flown through a special cargo plane from Windhoek, Namibia to Gwalior. After a medical check-up, these cheetahs were flown to the grassland of Palpur village in two IAF helicopters, including a Chinook. The cheetahs are radio-collared, and their movements are being tracked.

In an exclusive interview with me, Uttam K. Sharma, IFS, Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) and Field Director, Kuno National Park

informed, “These eight cheetahs were released to the bigger enclosures in November 2022. Five of the cheetahs started hunting on their own in the following months and have largely adjusted to the local environment.”

It is pertinent to mention that ‘Project Cheetah’ was initiated in 2009 when Jairam Ramesh was the environment minister. However, the project eventually got the green signal in Janv. 2020 by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The relocation project was assigned to a technical committee and this committee is closely monitoring that the cheetah introduction should not in any way adversely impact the lion reintroduction project.

Recently India has again signed an agreement but now with South Africa and through this agreement in February, 7 male, and 5 female African cheetahs will be translocated to Kuno National Park.

Uttam K. Sharma

in detail discussed the procedure to release the cheetahs in the forest and said, “We have made enclosures to keep these cheetahs. Eight cheetahs will be kept in single enclosures; however, two-two cheetahs would be kept in two separate enclosures together. As per the law, the 12 cheetahs have remained quarantined in their home country. i.e., South Africa, and will continue to remain quarantined for a month in India, the receiving country, after reaching here. We have prepared 50/30 meter small eight new quarantine bomas (small space enclosed by fencing) and we already have six more bomas, which are more than sufficient to accommodate these 12 cheetahs for a month’s time. In these small enclosures, we feed them, watch their response and behaviour toward the climate and surroundings for a period of one month and ensure that these cheetahs don’t have any disease to transmit. If things go well then there is a concept of the soft release. We later release them to bigger enclosures of 80/100 hectares. We have 9 such enclosures and 600 hectares of the area which have been covered. In all these enclosures these big cats would be kept. After spending some time in these bigger enclosures then these animals if they adjust to the surroundings, and start hunting then seeing their performance, we take the decision to release them into the wild,” he added.

While talking about the overall cost of the project Sharma further said that as it’s a government- to-government contract, there is no cost involved in this project. But India will bear the cost of servicing and logistics as private players are involved. And hence, India is paying the cost of capturing these big cats from forests by giving them tranquilizers, the cost of keeping and feeding these big cats, and the cost of relocation of cheetahs by helicopter to the quarantine centers, etc.

The southeastern portion of the Kuno National Park area is patchily connected to Panna Tiger Reserve through Madhav National Park– Shivpuri Forest Division. On the northwestern side, Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve across the River Chambal is connected. The National Park has leopards, jackals, spotted deer, sambhar, nilgai, chinkara, wild boar, and the four- horned antelope, an ideal prey base field.

It is pertinent to mention that in this series, the Union government has been attempting to reintroduce cheetahs in India since the 1960s and the 1970s. The National Park was chosen for the lion reproduction project in 2013, despite strong objections from Gujarat. The Asiatic cheetah, a highly endangered species that only exists in Iran, was officially declared extinct in India in 1952. Although there were reports of cheetah sightings in India in 1947, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Surguja state shot the three remaining males in what is now Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh.

Journalist Anubha did a special interview with Uttam K. Sharma, IFS, Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) and Field Director, Kuno National Park

Q. What are the further plans to bring cheetahs to India?

A. Including the South African cheetahs, in Kuno already 20 cheetahs are there. So, the number is sufficient for now. We have male and female cheetahs now and expect more cubs soon in Kuno. In that sense, Kuno would not require more cheetahs but the other sites in India will certainly receive more cheetahs if required. The MoU that has been signed with S.Africa is for the next 8-10 years to bring 10-12 cheetahs every year for creating a sustainable cheetah population in the country.

Q. Tell us about the major sites in India where African cheetahs can be translocated? A. The Ministry of Environment has identified 10 sites in five central Indian states where cheetahs can be relocated. Roughly, these sites are near Desert National Park and Mukundara in Rajasthan; Kuno, Maradahi, and Gandhi Sagar in Madhya Pradesh; Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh border and grassland in Gujarat.

Q. Why only South Africa as a country has been chosen to bring these big cats to India?

A. We decided to bring African cheetah species to India and these cheetahs are mostly found in five countries, viz., Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Jambiya.