The Indian Supreme Court has just authorized an experimental reintroduction of cheetahs on its territory. A decision that divides environmentalists.
There was a time when Asian cheetahs roamed freely over Indian territory. But, from the beginning of the 20th century, these felines had to face several threats, such as the loss of their habitat or poaching. Finally, the species, pushed to its limits, was declared extinct in the middle of the last century.
Means have since been put in place to try to reintroduce the Asian cheetahs. In the 1970s, Indian authorities indeed attempted to capture specimens evolving in Iran, which today shelters the last world population of Asian cheetahs (less than 50 specimens).
Unfortunately, all of these efforts have failed. On the one hand because the prey – like the antelope and the gazelle – were not numerous enough. But also and above all because the negotiations between the two countries were stopped after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
More recently, plans to clone Asian cheetahs have also been attempted, but to no avail. This is why for several years the Indian authorities have been considering the introduction into their territory of African cheetahs.
Supreme Court approves reintroduction of cheetahs
In 2013, the Supreme Court rejected a first proposal made by the Ministry of the Environment, saying that no study sufficiently supported this reintroduction. A second proposal was tabled a few months ago and on Tuesday, the court finally decided to allow an experimental reintroduction to see if the African cheetah can adapt to the Indian environment or not.
Before any introduction of felines (captured in Namibia), those responsible for the program will on the other hand have to identify an adequate habitat, offering a sufficient number of prey and limiting the risk of conflicts with humans. Suggested sites include the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, Velavadar National Park in Gujarat, and the Tal Chapar Sanctuary in Rajasthan.
A decision that divides
But while some environmentalists are enthusiastic about the idea of bringing cheetahs back to India, believing that this program could promote the long-term survival of this vulnerable species, others do not share the same opinion.
According to the Hindustan Times, some activists claim that none of the proposed habitats are large enough to accommodate cheetahs. “Serengeti National Park in Tanzania has an area of 14,750 square kilometers teeming with prey,” we can read. The proposed Indian wildlife habitats have an area of no more than 1,000 square kilometers, and offer far fewer prey than African homes. ”
Some also point to Indian capacities in the management of felines. If indeed the number of tigers continues to increase in the territory, the situation of the Asian lions is however much less rosy.
The 500 or so specimens still alive today are confined in Gir National Park (1,880 km 2), which can normally only house 300. As a result, these felines are exposed to diseases and infections. In the summer of 2019, more than 200 of these lions died in the region due to a virus.
Many also venture outside their borders, for lack of space, wandering in the Indian state of Gujarat and exposing themselves to human threats. Some die then hit by cars, while others are electrocuted or drowned in wells.
Cheetahs in great danger
It remains to be seen how the cats will react. We recall that the African situation is also very worrying.
If in 1900 there were at least 100,000 specimens on the continent, there would only be around 10,000 left. Indeed, man has long hunted the cheetah for its fur, which is prized for making coats or prayer rugs. Their bones and teeth are also used in traditional Chinese medicine. And while hunting has been prohibited in all African countries since the late 1990s, poaching is unfortunately still as active.