In news: The Supreme Court has lifted its 7-year-old stay on introducing the African Cheetah into India from Namibia.
- They are large Carnivore mammals categorised as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN
- Its sub-species Asiatic Cheetah is categorized as ‘Critically Endangered’
- They number only 6674 mature individuals and their habitat is now confined to Africa and Iran.
National Tiger Conservation Authority, NTCA
- It was established in 2005, following the recommendations by the Tiger Task Force. It was given legal mandate by amending the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, in 2006.
- It is headed by the Union Minister of Environment, forest and climate change.
- Its main objective is to implement Project Tiger initiated in 1973 for protection and conservation of the endangered tiger species.
Asiatic Cheetah in India
- They were officially declared Extinct in India by 1952. Their only viable population is left in Iran, numbering 60-70 in the wild.
- Plan for reintroduction was mooted during UPA-II regime, in a 2010 press release by the Environment Ministry.
- Initial plan was to introduce Asiatic Cheetahs from Iran.
- After Iran declined the request, the idea of introducing its close sibling, the African Cheetah gained traction as there is barely any physical difference between the two subspecies.
Benefits of reintroduction
- The reintroduction of large carnivores is seen as a strategy to conserve species of threatened animals.
- It can also help restore the ecosystem functions and maintain the equilibrium in the food chain.
- Cheetah has been the only Carnivore that has been hunted down to extinction in India. This puts a moral case for its reintroduction.
- India now has the economic ability to reintroduce its lost heritage.
- Other species need far more attention, e.g. Bengal florican, Asiatic lion, wild buffalo, dugong and the Manipur brow-antlered deer and The great Indian bustard which stands on the brink of extinction in the country.
- Incomplete status of existing plans like the translocation of lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh species like the lion for whose relocation plan remains in limbo despite a SC judgement on it in 2013.
- The initiative will amount to Introduction of the African cheetah and not a re-introduction. Kuno or Nauradehi wildlife sanctuary (Madhya Pradesh) is not a historical habitat for African cheetahs. A detailed scientific study has to be done before introducing a foreign species to India.
- Making Cheetah’s introduction successful means we have to save not only its prey-base comprising certain threatened species, but also other endangered species of the grassland like caracal, the Indian wolf and three endangered species of the bustard family.
- Environmentalists are concerned that Cheetahs, being the species of open savannah grasslands and not dense forests, their introduction may hinder the afforestation programmes.
Caution in conservation policy
- One of the reasons for their extinction from India was, Kings collected them in thousands, kept them in captivity and used them to hunt antelopes. Cheetahs do not breed well in captivity.
- Also, the British attempted a policy of reforestation of the grasslands which they wrongly perceived as lost forests, ban on grazing activities and preventing pastoralists and hindering natural wildfires. This deprived them of their natural habitat.
- Current policy of the State, as listed below, echoes the British era policies:
- Bringing large tracts of open land under irrigation,
- planting alien species like Prosopis juliflora (which has since gone rogue) in Greening programmes,
- eucalyptus plantation for paper-pulp industry, and
- industrial projects etc.
- Indian open grasslands have higher densities of both human and livestock densities.