India finalises deals for cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia

India will release cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia into the wild at Kuno Palpur in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh, possibly by the end of this year, officials said, as the government has finalised deals to get the planet’s fastest animals that became extinct in the country in the middle of last century.

The “finer details” of the deals were worked out during an April visit by environment ministry officials to Namibia and South Africa, and the agreements are being sent for political and diplomatic approvals, a central government official said, seeking anonymity.

This would initiate India’s ambitious plan of transcontinental relocation of cheetahs. To begin with, there will be 12 cheetahs from South Africa and eight from Namibia. More would follow in subsequent years.

Namibia is “positively” working on the agreement, according to Romeo Mayundu, spokesperson of the Namibian environment ministry. The agreement was heading in the right direction in South Africa, said Albi Modise, spokesperson of South African environment and fisheries ministry.

There were some disagreements between India and Namibia on a contentious proposal of Namibia seeking India’s help in allowing trade of its wildlife at the meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) held in March this year, the international regulatory body, another official said, declining to be named.

India was not happy with the wildlife utilisation terms in the agreement and suggested conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity instead, the official said. “Namibia agreed to India’s proposal,” he added.

Explaining the difference, Madhya Pradesh principal chief conservator of forest JS Chauhan said, as per CITES, sustainable use of biodiversity means to contribute to tangible benefits for local people, and ensures that no species entering into international trade was threatened with extinction.

“It basically stops unsustainable exploitation of wildlife,” Chauhan said.

The insistence of Namibia to seek sustainable wildlife utilization in the agreement had stalled the project for some time. Namibia was keen in India’s support as it wants export of 22 elephants to the United Arab Emirates. The CITES had put the proposal on hold and wanted assurance that it will not impact elephant conservation.

In the agreement that will be signed between South Africa and India, the two governments talked about cooperation on conservation of the cheetah for improved ecosystem services, community livelihood options, transfer of technology and science, said an officer of the Madhya Pradesh forest department.

Initially, the memorandum of understanding will be signed for 10 years, which can be extended for another five years, said the South African official.

There is no decision on exact number of cheetahs South Africa will provide and when. “The discussion on the project is going on, as we haven’t agreed yet on details such as numbers and timelines,” Modise said.

According to an official of Cheetah Conservation Fund in South Africa, 12 cheetahs are ready in South Africa and eight in Namibia for translocation to India. They are likely to be exported to India by end of 2022 or early 2023.

Before that happens, officials from Kuno Palpur National Park, which once was home to cheetahs and lions, will be trained to handle the fastest animal on the planet.

A group of four officials, including divisional forest officer Prakash Kumar Verma, assistant conservator of forests Amritanshu Singh, veterinarian Onkar Anchal and National Tiger Conservation Authority deputy inspector general Rajendra G Garawad, will go for training to Namibia and South Africa from May 29 to June 9.

In the training, the team will learn about working with cheetahs, their diet, health, enclosure management, livestock depredation, anaesthesia, management in the wild and cheetah immobilization exercise, said the letter of the training programme, officials said.

The project to translocate cheetahs from Africa to India is a long-term, one-time project being implemented by the environment ministry with the help of the Wildlife Institute of India to reintroduce the cheetah into wild, which became extinct in India in the 1950s.

The Supreme Court had appointed an expert panel, which approved Kuno Palpur as the possible location for cheetah relocation. In the past six months, the Madhya Pradesh forest department has prepared a 10 sq km enclosure with round-the-clock surveillance for reintroduction of cheetahs.


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