Bhopal: To ensure that India's cheetah reintroduction plan starting in November does not face any hurdle at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, the state forest department has started a campaign to educate the people living around the facility about the world's fastest land animal and on human-wildlife coexistence, officials said on Thursday.
The country's last spotted cheetah died in what is now Chhattisgarh in 1947 and it was declared extinct in the country in 1952. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) some years back prepared a cheetah reintroduction project.
As part of the project, around 12 cheetahs are going to be brought to the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Sheopur district from South Africa in November, they said.
"It is a publicity and awareness campaign before the reintroduction of cheetah. It is a campaign to promote animal acceptance... that the fastest mammal is being brought to your area...that its not dangerous...doesn't attack humans," said a forest department official requesting anonymity.
"The campaign has been undertaken to tackle any possible misinformation which might arise and also clear misconceptions. It is to inform people about cheetah. Why they are being brought here? To counter any misunderstanding among the people, the exercise started two days ago," he added.
The campaign covering villages also emphasizes on avoiding man-animal conflict and peaceful coexistence.
"It is just an exercise to take the people around the park on board," Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Alok Kumar told PTI.
Around 12 cheetahs are going to be brought to Kuno from South Africa in November, Kumar said.
"It is just an advertisement exercise that cheetahs are being brought to Kuno. In fact, people around the park are very excited as their arrival will promote tourism and generate employment for locals," MP Forest Minister Vijay Shah said.
KNP, located in the Chambal region, is spread over an area of over 750 sq km and has a conducive environment for the cheetah, forest department officials said.
The protected area, housing animals like four-horned antelope, chinkara, nilgai, wild boar, spotted deer and sambar (a large deer), has a good prey base for cheetahs, they added.
"According to the approved timeline sent to us by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in May, the tentative budget outlay of the 'Project Cheetah' is Rs 1,400 lakh for this fiscal," Shah said.
An expert from South Africa visited the Kuno National Park on April 26 this year along with scientists from the WII and inspected the facilities and habitat created there for the introduction of African cheetahs, the officials said.
They approved the available facilities and the final process of bringing cheetahs to KNP is currently underway, they said.
Last year, experts from the WII had visited four places in Madhya Pradesh to look for the best habitat for introduction of African cheetahs in the country, the officials said.
The WII team had visited the Kuno National Park (Sheopur district), the Nauradehi sanctuary in Sagar district, the Gandhi Sagar sanctuary on the northern boundary of Mandsaur and Neemuch districts and the Madhav National Park in Shivpuri district, they added.
The Supreme Court last year set up a three- member committee to guide the NTCA on the cheetah reintroduction project. The SC had given its approval to introduce African cheetahs at a suitable habitat in India on an experimental basis.
The panel has asked the WII to carry out a technical evaluation of all possible sites for the reintroduction of cheetahs in the country.
"Madhya Pradesh had in the past been home to cheetahs. The state has a long conservation history...we have the habitat. We also have a successful animal translocation track record," the officials said, referring to the tiger reintroduction programme in the Panna Tiger Reserve in 2009.
Cheetah features on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of threatened species, with a population of less than 7,000, found primarily in African savannas.