Cheetah cubs born after controversial reintroduction to India are dying in 47C heat

Six cheetahs have died in recent weeks raising concerns about Project Cheetah

Sravasti Dasgupta
Friday 26 May 2023 09:53 BST
India welcomes back cheetahs, 70 years after local extinction

Two more cubs born to a cheetah brought from Namibia to India died in northern Madhya Pradesh state’s Kuno National Park due to “extreme weather conditions”, taking the animals’ death toll to six in recent weeks.

Of the four cubs born to the cheetah named Jwala, only one remains alive now. The first cub died on Tuesday due to “immense weakness”, reported The Indian Express.

Following the death on Tuesday, authorities at the national park said that health concerns had been raised as the condition of the remaining three cubs was not normal with temperatures hitting 46-47 degrees Celsius.

Madhya Pradesh principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) J S Chauhan said that the teams “immediately decided to rescue the three cubs and do necessary treatment”.

“The condition of two cubs was extremely bad, and despite all efforts for treatment, they could not be saved. The remaining cub is in Palpur hospital under intensive treatment and monitoring,” he was quoted as saying to the outlet.

The fourth cub is undergoing treatment but is stable, authorities said.

Officials said all “the cheetah cubs were found to be weak, underweight and highly dehydrated”.

“The cheetah cubs were about eight weeks old. At this stage, cheetah cubs are generally inquisitive and constantly walk with the mother. The cubs started walking only about 8-10 days ago,” Mr Chauhan said.

“According to cheetah experts, the survival rate of cheetah cubs in Africa is generally very low. The post-mortem proceedings are being done as per the standard protocol.”

With the deaths on Thursday, a total of six cheetahs have died at the Kuno National Park, including three cubs and three adults.

Over a dozen cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia were translocated to the Kuno National Park (KNP) of Madhya Pradesh in 2022 under the “Project Cheetah”, more than 70 years after the animals were declared extinct.

The efforts to reintroduce cheetahs in India was done amid much fanfare by the Narendra Modi government.

While the efforts have been praised, some wildlife activists and experts have raised concerns.

South African wildlife expert Vincent Van der Merwe told news agency Press Trust of India that the mortality rate of these cheetahs amid their reintroduction will see a spike in the coming months.

“We anticipate a 50 per cent mortality in the first year, we know that only 10 are going to survive the initial release period. There’s going to be more than enough prey for them,” he was quoted as saying.

He said the deaths will be higher as the big cats will try to establish territories and encounter leopards and tigers inside the national park.

The recent deaths were within the acceptable range, according to him. However, killing of a female cheetah by males during courtship was unexpected based on a team of experts who reviewed the project.

A South African female cheetah named Daksha, died on 9 March following a violent interaction with a male during a mating attempt.

A female cheetah from Namibia named Sasha died due to a kidney ailment on 27 March.

Uday, a South African cheetah, died in April due to cardio-pulmonary failure. Uday was part of the batch of 12 cheetahs flown to India on 18 February after eight Namibian cheetahs arrived in September last year.

Last week India’s Supreme Court asked the federal government to keep political differences aside and shift the translocated cheetahs to the western state of Rajasthan.

A bench of justices BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol told the federal government that the Kuno National Park seems insufficient for such large numbers of cheetahs.

According to Mr Van der Merwe, while deaths after relocation are normal, those outside of the fenced enclosures is where the real danger lies.

“That’s where you can expect mortality due to hunting injury. The cheetahs, of course, will continue to establish territories and fight with each other and kill each other for territories and for access to females. They’re going to encounter leopards. There are now tigers moving around in Kuno. The worst mortalities are still to come,” he was quoted as saying.

According to a report in the Associated Press, fewer than 7,000 adult cheetahs remain in the wild globally, and they now inhabit less than nine per cent of their original range.

Shrinking habitat, due to the increasing human population and climate change, is a huge threat.

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