The last of Asiatic cheetah was spotted and killed in Madhya Pradesh in sixties and to reverse the chain with reintroduction, the state is all set with four major sites ready and available to host the African cheetah. With a team of experts surveying the four locations, MP is hoping to be selected for becoming the first host of African cheetah in India especially after successfully winning back its title of Tiger state.
The expert team has been visiting the national parks and gathering primary data for short term study. With four suitable locations, MP has an advantage and hopes to be selected by scoring well in scientific study on all the grounds.
Covid-19 delayed the process
This year in January, Supreme Court had given in principle approval to bring African cheetah in India and formed an expert committee to find the suitable place for cheetah introduction. SC also instructed that the committee has to give the report in three months time.
But due to covid-19 outbreak and following conditions, the expert committee couldn't start their work in time.
Survey in process
Now, the expert committee is searching for suitable habitat for African cheetah. They are conducting their primary survey by visiting various places. Since last week of November, the committee is in MP and visiting various national parks.
The four national parks being considered as prospective habitat for African cheetah in India are: Kuno National Park in Sheopur, Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Damoh, Madhav National Park in Shivpuri and Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Mandsaur
“To best of my understanding there will be also visiting suitable places in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh,” Rajneesh Singh, spokesperson of state forest department, said.
The last of Cheetah in MP
Chitavar in Madhya Pradesh and the entire Narmada planes have always been known for having a good population of cheetah.
“The last cheetah was hunted sometime in the sixties in Madhya Pradesh only,” Singh said. Though, we cannot say whether the African cheetah will come to MP initially or not, it is bound to make its way into the biodiversity rich forest of MP.
Selection of site for African Cheetah
Selection of site is a scientific process. In the first step, the committee is visiting all the possible habitats for cheetah. After covering about 10 to 12 sites all across India, the committee will commission a short term study. After the short-term study, the selection process will begin.
Till then all the states are putting their claim as best of their abilities. Without proper scientific study, it would be premature to say that which area is most suitable. However, MP has several plus points working in its favour.
Species to be brought to India: Southeast African Cheetah
Southeast African Cheetah is one of the five sub-species of African Cheetah found in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It is regionally extinct in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
This subspecies is estimated to have diverged from the Asiatic cheetah 32,000 to 67,000 years ago. India is in communication with Africa to bring in cheetah from Namibia. There have been some rumours about African government sending the pair for free of cost, where India would have to bear only transportation cost.
A climatic advantage
Cheetahs prefer a habitat with a dry climate, since low humidity and rainfall often correspond with a low level of vegetation. Similarly cheetahs tend to live at altitudes above sea level and sometimes occupy sparsely vegetated mountains.
As per forest officials, the climate and temperature variations in most national parks in MP are similar to Nambia, Africa. Nauradehi is known to be quite similar to Namibia. Hence, there is a good chance for cheetahs’ to easily adjust in Nauradehi.
Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country that also showed a marginal 0.03% increase in forests compared to the previous year. The latest biennial -India State of Forest Report (ISFR) released by the Union minister of environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javdekar showed that forest cover of the state increased by 68.49 sq km as compared to the previous assessment reported in 2017.