One more cheetah has been confirmed dead at the Kuno National Park, a senior official associated with Project Cheetah informed on August 2. “This morning, one of the female cheetahs — Dhatri (Tiblisi) — was found dead. To determine the cause of the death, a post-mortem is being conducted,” the statement read. A male cheetah also died at the national park in Madhya Pradesh recently, making it the eighth big cat casualty there in nearly four months. The African cheetah, Suraj, was found dead at the Kuno National Park in early morning. Officials said they were trying to ascertain the exact cause of Suraj's death. Earlier, another male cheetah, Tejas, was found dead at the national park. The feline's autopsy had revealed that the cheetah was unable to recover from a "traumatic shock" after a violent fight with a female cheetah.
On March 27, a female Cheetah named Sasha died due to kidney ailment, on April 23, Uday died of cardio-pulmonary failure and on May 9, Daksha, a female cheetah, died after a violent interaction with a male during a mating attempt. Two cheetah cubs died of "extreme weather condition and dehydration" on May 25. Suraj's death is yet another blow to the Centre's cheetah reintroduction programme launched in September last year, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Centre had denied any lapses behind the deaths of the six cheetahs. "There is no lapse behind any of the cheetah deaths. Even in the case of the deaths of the three cheetah cubs, global wildlife literature clearly mentions 90% per cent infant mortality among cheetahs," said an official.
In May, South African wildlife expert Vincent van der Merwe had predicted more cheetah deaths and said that the reintroduction project was going to see an even higher mortality, when the cheetahs would try to establish territories and come face to face with leopards and tigers at the park. The Supreme Court had expressed serious concern over the cheetah deaths at KNP and asked the Centre to rise above politics and consider shifting them to Rajasthan. Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared animals were imported from Namibia and South Africa to the Kuno National Park.
While 14 cheetahs — seven males, six females and one female cub — are kept in the bomas in Kuno, a female cheetah is out in the open and is being intensively monitored by a team. Efforts are on to bring her back to the boma for a health examination, a statement by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department said. Inquiry into cheetahs’ deaths points to natural causes, Centre informed SC. The government said the big cats had low survival rates, 50%, even in adults. In an “introduced population” of cheetahs, cubs have about 10% survival. The government said the big cats had low survival rates, 50%, even in adults. In an “introduced population” of cheetahs, cubs have about 10% survival. The environment ministry and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) informed the Supreme Court that a provisional diagnosis of the deaths of eight cheetahs at Kuno National Park “point towards natural causes”. An affidavit said the deaths did not occur due to “unnatural reasons” like poaching, sharing, road hits, electrocution, etc. “NTCA today has no reason to believe that the mortalities were caused on account of any inherent unsuitability at the Kuno site,” the affidavit said. The government and NTCA, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, said the mortalities though troubling and in need of redressal and curtailment, were not unduly alarming.
Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared animals were imported from Namibia and South Africa to the KNP and later four cubs were born from Namibian cheetah ‘Jwala’. Out of these 24 feline, nine including three cubs have died. Two batches of cheetahs, eight from Namibia and 12 from South Africa, were translocated to Kuno National Park in September 2022 and February 2023. Fifteen adult cheetahs and one Indian-born cub survive. Five adult cheetahs and three cubs were reported dead in Kuno. The cubs were found “severely dehydrated and underweight”. The Supreme Court, on July 20, had remarked that the deaths of 40% of the 20 cheetahs did not present a good picture. It had told the government that from reports of experts and articles, it appeared that KNP is not sufficient to accommodate such a large number of cheetahs and the Union Government may consider shifting the animals that went extinct from the country in 1947-48 to other sanctuaries. The top court is hearing an application filed by the Centre seeking direction from the court that it is no longer necessary for the NTCA to continue taking guidance and advice from the expert committee appointed by the apex court through an order dated January 28, 2020.
The affidavit however assured that steps have been taken to ensure the well-being of the surviving cheetahs, including their capture and administration of critical medical examination. Thirteen adults and one cub have already been captured and treated.
According to an action plan, the government and the NTCA intend to introduce 12-14 cheetahs annually from African countries for the next five years. This would depend on the availability of the big cats from these countries as well as the status of habitat, prey-base and protection mechanism on the ground. The court had also urged the government to move the big cats to a more conducive environment, if required, and not make it a “prestige issue”. The affidavit submitted that besides the Kuno National Park and its extended landscape of 6800 per sq.km, the NTCA has requested Madhya Pradesh on June 28 to add areas in Shivpuri, Sheopur divisions and Heerupur wildlife sanctuary. The affidavit said the cheetah action plan had identified, besides Kuno, other sites like Gandhi Sagar and Nauradehi wildlife sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh, Shahgarh Bulge, Bhainsrorgarh wildlife sanctuary and Mukundra Hills tiger reserve in Rajasthan as potential sites for cheetah introduction. After Kuno now, Gandhi Sagar and Nauradehi are being prepared for the cheetah population.
However, the NTCA said experts were of the considered opinion that Mukundra may not be able to accommodate cheetahs owing to the deaths/disappearance of five tigers in a very short span of time in 2020, the presence of feral cattle carrying a parasitic load, low prey density and 57% vacancy in frontline staff posts.