India is witnessing transformative changes since Prime minister Narendra Modi Ji was elected the leader of 1.3 billion people, and some of these changes for the first time since Independence.
One such is the effort to bring the spotted big cats back to our forests. After 70 years of extinction, India is home to wild Cheetahs, who were once the pride of our forests but were declared extinct in 1952. Seven decades since, a historical error has been fixed. And like many ills of the past, it has taken PM Modi to enable the reintroduction of these majestic soft-pawed wild ones into our forests again. On his birthday on September 17 this year, he has chosen to gift this nation what we lost forever seventy years ago.
As part of our government’s efforts to revitalise and diversify the country’s wildlife and habitat, PM Modi released wild Cheetahs brought from Namibia into the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. To ‘rectify the past and build a new future’ in the words of our PM, this effort to enhance our bio-diversity is being made under Project Cheetah. It is the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project. An MOU was signed earlier this year for this purpose, and eight Cheetahs are now on Indian soil thanks to this effort. While the pandemic is said to have delayed their arrival, that they are finally here in this ‘Amrit Kaal’ is truly to be celebrated. As our PM explained in his address after the release of the Cheetahs, a lot of hard work and effort has gone into enabling their arrival. A detailed action plan was prepared. Our scientists & experts from South Africa and Namibia travelled between their original habitat and various spots that could be the most suitable for their new home and chose the Kuno National Park after conducting various scientific surveys.
African Cheetah to India
While meetings of the Cheetah Taskforce took place in May 2013 and March 2015, it was in January 2020, the Honourable Supreme Court approved the introduction of African Cheetahs and constituted an expert committee that would work with the NTCA to bring the African Cheetah to India. After multiple meetings, the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, prepared the proposal titled ‘Bringing Back The Cheetah To India,’ followed by a rapid assessment of various wildlife parks and sanctuaries throughout 2021, and the Kuno National Park was finally chosen. Various wildlife management activities were undertaken at the Kuno National Park, including soil & moisture conservation and fire protection, which made it suitable for the Cheetah introduction. It is reportedly the only wildlife site in India where the villages inside the park have been completely relocated. Kuno can also be home to the four big cats of India – tiger, lion, leopard, and cheetah – making room for them to co-exist as they did in the past. These eight Cheetahs – five male and three female – aged between 30 to 66 months – are radio-collared and constantly monitored by experts.
As our PM mentioned in his very popular and much-awaited radio show Mann Ki Baat, people across the country are eager to visit the Cheetahs, but it will take some time for them to make our country home and feel at ease here. Until then, we can, as Modi Ji spoke about, participate in a Competition on MyGov and join hands in making the Cheetahs part of our large Indian family. There are many questions to be answered – What should the initiative for Cheetahs be called? What should we call each of these Cheetahs? How should we, as humans, tend to these animals? Let us all participate in this exciting competition, have a say in the conduct of our nation’s actions and our government’s decisions, and reap the privileges of being such a vibrant participative democracy.
Action Plan for Cheetah in India.
The Cheetahs, whose name originates from Sanskrit meaning ‘the spotted one,’ will help foster the growth of open forests. While aiding the restoration of grassland ecosystems, it will also help enhance their services like soil moisture conservation and water security, among others. It is also part of our government’s long series of efforts to ensure environmental conservation and sustainability, which is visible in the form of an enhanced forest cover. With a rise of 16,000 sq km in the last four years alone, we are among the few nations that have achieved this in recent times. These 8 Cheetahs are among the 50 that the Indian government decided to introduce under the ‘Action Plan for Cheetah in India.’ Although these Cheetahs were widely considered fit for domestication, their tender nature only made them more vulnerable to being hunted or maimed to join royals or later colonial officials on their hunting sprees. They are also said to be the least in conflict with humans, to their own peril. Inbreeding, loss of habitats owing to newer settlements, and the like eventually led to their extinction. And now, after 70 years, an attempt is being made to compensate for all that we have lost. On the human front, it will help boost eco-tourism activities and eco-development in the surrounding areas, thereby creating greater opportunities for livelihood for locals by making them stakeholders in this process.
And symbolically, too, the release of these majestic but gentle carnivores by our globally loved Prime Minister on his birthday, in contrast to the release of pigeons by a former Prime Minister on his, is significant because it marks the arrival of a new India. An India that is no meek messenger like the Pigeon but strong and roaring like a feline whose stride is royal, speed is unmatched, but the manner is kind. And that we shall no longer be hunted or shunted but bring back the glory of the past, even those that stayed extinct in the last seven decades.
*The author is the Member of Parliament from Nizamabad, Telangana