Ok, First things first
1) The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), a large sized feline of the family Felidae & is different from the Leopard (Panthera pardus). The most quick visibly distinguishing factor is perhaps the bold black line ‘tear streak’ that runs from the inner corners of the Cheetah’s eye to its jaw line. This line is absent in the Leopards. Another visible difference is the spots. The Cheetah’s fur has solid spots, whereas the Leopard’s spots are more complex and resemble rosettes.
2) It is the fastest land animal. It can achieve speed of between 112 and 120 km/h and specialises in running down its prey.
3) Unlike most cats, cheetahs can hardly retract their claws at all. The claws grip the ground as they run, like the spikes on a sprinter’s shoes.
4) The Cheetah was once found in good numbers across both Africa and Asia. Today, however although around 5000 Cheetahs still survive in Africa, there are only about 80 individuals surviving in the arid regions of Iran.
5) The Cheetah is extensively mentioned in Indian literature, with the word ‘cheetah’ itself originating from the Sanskrit word ‘chitraka’ which means ‘speckled one’.
6) Indian rulers, especially the Mughals, kept cheetahs as pets and used them for hunting. Emperor Akbar, for example, maintained a stable of over one thousand cheetahs.
7) India was once home to many cheetahs, but the last of them was killed in 1947 and the cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952. It is the only large mammal to have been declared extinct in our country in recorded history.
In 2003, when a certain soft drink company launched its brand campaign in India as ‘Cheetah bhi peeta hai’, they probably did not know that the beautiful creature has been extinct in India since 1952. But luckily for the soft drink brand, the public awareness regarding this did not amount to much and this tiny little fact did not affect the brand in anyway. In fact in the next few years, this tag-line became the punch line for many lame jokes, smses and shayaris across the country. Of course all this has nothing to do with ‘The Cheetah’ but then again…
Fast forward to September 2009 – Reintroducing Cheetahs in India
A consultative meeting of global Cheetah experts was held at Gajner where a decision was made for detailed survey in selected sites to explore the potential of reintroducing the cheetah in India.
There has been a lot of discussion on the subject. Many people have been known to be against this step and ask what chances the Cheetah has when we haven’t even been able to take care of the Tigers, our National animal.
The following are the reasons cited by the MoEF, India(Ministry of Environment and Forests) for reintroducing Cheetah in India:
1) Re-introduction of apex carnivores should be seen as ecosystems conservation rather than merely as species conservation. Re-introduction of the cheetah into India would be reclaiming a part of India’s wonderful and varied natural heritage. Being a top level carnivore, the Cheetah will help restore the eco-system functions in its habitat that is our grasslands, scrublands and open forests.
2) The reason for the Cheetah’s extinction in India was excessive hunting. There was no natural reason for its extinction; therefore, there is every chance that it will survive in the wild in India provided it is given protection.
3) Unlike the tiger, whose every body part is coveted by the poachers, there is no demand for the cheetah’s body parts save the skin, so poaching threat is comparatively lesser.
Following the meeting at Gajner, a committee was formed for assessing the potential for reintroducing the Cheetah in India. Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Dr. Y.V. Jhala from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) are the principal investigators for this project.
When I contacted Dr. Y.V. Jhala on Jan 3rd 2011 as regards to the current status of this project he said; “The Cheetah reintroduction has been approved by the cabinet but is still waiting allocation of resources (funds) from the Government. The first installment of cheetah (11 animals) is ready for shipment from Namibia. As soon as the Government gives the resources and permits are issued these can be brought to the selected site in Madhya Pradesh – Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary for the first phase of the reintroduction project.”
And with this, I would like to wish MoEF, WTI, WII, Indian Government and everyone else involved all the very best of luck for Project Cheetah. And everyone else, who is with me so far, do keep watching this space for further updates, cause WE are going to follow this project till its completion.