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Introduction of the Cheetah in India

cheetah in india - 3

Cheetah in India

India is home to 5 out of 7 of the Big Cats of the World.

Another large Feline, although a school of thought suggests that they are not part of the Big Cat family, the Cheetah, once was found in India too.

The fastest land animal on the planet, clocking speeds of up to 100 kmph, the Cheetah took down a varied species of prey such as Gazelles, Impalas, Wild Boar, Wildebeest, Hares, Blackbucks, Spotted Deer and ground birds in the open plains and semi-arid regions of Africa, Middle-East Asia, all the way towards India in the East.

cheetah in india

Adaptations of the Cheetah:

 

  • It has adapted to hunt in the open despite being a solitary hunter, at great speed and with great agility. Most animals which hunt in the open such as Wild Dogs, Wolves, Hyaenas and even Big Cats – do so in groups.
  • Their great speed and acceleration also allows them to get away from larger hunters such as Lions and Hyaenas.
  • Non – retractable claws, unlike other large cats, help in keeping a firm grip on the ground below to gain maximum traction while running, even as they change direction.
  • Highly specialised front pads which are pointed at the back end of the front pad, allow the Cheetah to “slam the breaks” as it attempts to bring down its prey, not losing its death grip on the animal.
  • The Cheetah’s tail isn’t rounded at the end like the Lion’s or Leopards’ tail, it is flat and remains erect as it runs as high speed in a zig – zag motion, able to change direction with its prey without losing ground. It works akin to the rudder of a boat.
  • Its long and slender body with muscular long legs enable it to take giant strides while it runs, mostly remaining in the air as it “runs” across the vast open plains.
  • Its muscular hind legs enable to gain great acceleration, 0 to 90 kmph in under 3.5 seconds!
  • Black lines running down the sides of eyes of the Cheetah like a tears, absorb light and thus prevent the sun’s glare from getting into its eyes which can be distracting in the open hunting grounds.
  • Their pale yellow fur with black spots allow them to camouflage in the open and stalk their prey up to catch-able distance.

Subspecies of Cheetah in the world

 

 

Subspecies

Estimated Population IUCN Status Distribution
1. Acinonyx jubatus hecki

Northwest African Cheetah/ Saharan Cheetah

250 individuals Critically Endangered Algeria, Niger, Mali, Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso.
2. Acinonyx jubatus jubatus

South-East African Cheetah

6000 individuals Vulnerable South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Kalahari Desert,  Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia.
3. Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii

Northeast African Cheetah/Sudan

  950 individuals Vulnerable Ethiopia and Southern Sudan
4. Acinonyx jubatus venaticus

The Asiatic Cheetah

50 individuals Critically Endangered Only found in Iran

Former Range:

India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Turkmenistan, Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula

 

Which Subspecies of Cheetah was found in India?

  • The Asiatic Cheetah(Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) was found in India, and was declared extinct in 1952 in India.

cheetah in india

 

Does the Asiatic Cheetah yet survive?

  • Yes, the Asiatic Cheetah survives across large home ranges in Iran in Protected Areas in Iran such Daruneh Protected Area, Naybandan Wildlife Reserve, Daruneh Protected Area, Touran National Park, Kavir National Park and Dar-e-Anjir Wildlife Refuge.

Population is estimated at 50-100 individuals which is beyond perilous for the species.

These are arid plains and semi-desert areas which have a good presence of wild prey species such as Mouflon(wild sheep), Persian Ibex, Chinkara(Jebeer Gazelle), Goitered Gazelle, Wild Boar, Cape Hares and birds such as Houbara Bustard, Chukar Partridge, Black – bellied Sandgrouse and See-See Partridge.

 

Where in India was the Asiatic Cheetah found?

In India, the Asiatic Cheetah was found in the Scrub, Open Plains and Dry deciduous forested landscapes of :

  • Western India : Rajasthan and Gujarat
  • North India : Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana
  • Central India : Northern Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh
  • Eastern India : Orissa and Jharkhand
  • South India : Karnataka and as far south as Tamil Nadu

 

When did the Cheetah go extinct in India?

  • The Cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952. The last 03 wild Cheetah were officially shot by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, in Chattisgarh in 1948.

 

History of the Cheetah in India

The Asiatic Cheetah can trace its origins back to the South – East African Cheetahs, as recent genetic studies, undertaken by CSIR Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad and the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in Lucknow, have shown.

They are believed to have diverged from the populations living in South – Eastern African around 72,000 years ago.

Thousands of Cheetahs roamed India’s Gangetic plains in the North, filtering down to the Central Part of India.

They hunted Blackbuck, Chinkara(Indian Gazelle) and Spotted Deer in the vast open plains.

cheetah old art

  • Earliest evidence of the Cheetah in India dates back to 2500BC, in Cave paintings of Khairabad, Kharvai and Chaturbhujnath, in Chambal Valley of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Domestication of Cheetahs, while heavily associated with the Mughals of India, was in fact during the time of the Chalukya Kings’ – King Someshvara III of Kalyani – used to course Blackbuck with the help of Cheetahs. This has been chronicled in the Manasollasa, in the early 12th
  • Firoz Shah Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi, was known to have domesticated several wild species such as the Cheetah, Caracals and Lions during his reign in the 14th Century.
  • Mughal Emperor Akbar, during his reign in the 16th Century, was known to have about 9000 Cheetahs in his menageries or private zoos during his lifetime, and upto 1000 at a time in his courts.

He was reputed to take great care and was fond of them, much labour, expertise and money was spent in the upkeep of the menageries.

He developed a method wherein Cheetahs were captured in deep[03-04 feet] “humane” pits made into the ground, they would then capture them and collar them – with a princely collar – one would be wise to harm any such collared Cheetahs during Akbar’s reign.

The trainers he employed were greatly skilled at the art of taming Cheetahs, and coursing was an important and favourite pastime of the incumbent Mughal ruler.

The hunting parties would send the tamed Cheetahs out towards herds of Antelopes and Deer, in turn luring them closer to the hunter waiting with arms – this technique was tabled chatramandal.

  • Cheetahs do not usually breed in captivity, save for one instance recorded in these times wherein Mughal King King Jahangir(son of King Akbar) recorded the birth of 03 cubs in his menagerie in 1613. The first known instance of this phenomenon, up till the 20th
  • All records of Wild Cheetahs in India are found through official hunting records and pelt seized from late 18th Century till 1948 by Hunters, British Officials and Royalty in areas such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

A point to reflect on here is that there have been no records of any unprovoked attacks on humans by the Asiatic Cheetah in India – yet it was driven out through hunting, excessive captivity and diseases therein.

The slight stature of the Cheetah, its docile nature and ability to be trained, earned many people the opportunity of capturing them, to be sold to hunters.

Its stature, as “vermin”, offered by the British, caused it great harm as well.

Combined with the effect of clearing grasslands for agriculture, the not so common Asiatic Cheetah, was driven to extinction.

Reintroduction of the Cheetah in India

This has been a hot topic of conversation recently, with the Supreme Court of India approved a plan on January 28th 2020, to “introduce” the African Cheetah to the home of its close cousin, The Asiatic Cheetah, in India.

This Project, however, has been mooted in various forms for a long while, as far back 1955 – when the State Board for Wildlife of Andhra Pradesh has suggested relocating Asiatic Cheetahs back to their old hunting grounds in the state.

cheetah found in india

 

History of Re – introduction of the Cheetah in India

  • In 1984, Mr.Divyabhanusinh Chawda was asked to compile an official report for the Minister of Environment and Forests. This was helped on by the WWF as well, and the area of Kutch was suggested by Mr.MK Ranjitsinh.
  • His book in 1995, “End of the Trail : The Cheetah in India” shares much light on the historical plight of the Cheetah in India. It was also a rallying call to restore the status of this species in India.
  • In 1998, A Cheetah Breeding Facility in Jodhpur was to be setup in Machiya Nature Reserve, which garnered much international press coverage but not enough political support.

Early attempts were left on the backburner, due ton ongoing crises with protecting the extant keystone species in India such as the Lion and Tiger.

  • Finally, in 2009, the Environmental Minister of India, Mr.Jairam Ramesh, rekindled talks with Iran for the idea of relocation of the Asiatic Cheetah in India.

Local Wildlife Trusts such as Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India in collaboration with IUCN, Cheetah Conservation Fund and other NGO’s held talks about a formal move of the re – introduction of the Cheetah in India.

Feasibility studies were conducted at 07 sites, however, Iran had firmly ruled out the possibility due to their massively declining numbers of what was the last population of Wild Asiatic Cheetahs in the world. As a result, the African Cheetah was proposed to be introduced to India instead.

  • In July, 2010, 03 potential sites were proposed for this relocation, including Shahgarh Landscape(Jaisalmer, Rajasthan) Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary(Madhya Pradesh) and Kuno – Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary (Northern Madhya Pradesh), which was the most prominent of them all.

Kuno – Palpur’s Savannah grasslands, Scrub and Dry Deciduous Habitat were declared most well prepared, for relocation of the Asiatic Lions from Gir – Gujarat, as well as 27 African Cheetahs, to occupy the 3200 sq.km of forested habitat available, roughly 10% of it being the Core Area.

  • Kuno – Palpur was earmarked due to the ongoing talks to relocate Lions back, and villages from inside the Sanctuary had been relocated as a result of these Memorandums.

The parallel talks of the Lions relocation to Kuno – Palpur would later prove a thorn in the side of relocation of both species here, the Cheetah as well as the Lion, which till today, has not seen the light of day.

  • The first Cheetahs to be relocated were South – East African Cheetahs in 2012, however, the Supreme Court found that the evidence presented, habitat available at Kuno – Palpur and the planning of the introduction therein, did not meet up to the standards required to undertake an expensive and infamous relocation.

cheetah art

 

Most Recent Ruling of Introduction of the Cheetah in India

  • Cheetah is a flagship species of the Grasslands of India, its protection, provides for protection of other important species such as the Bustards of India, Hares, Antelopes such as Blackbuck, Four – horned Antelope and Chinkara, as well as Deer such as Spotted Deer. It also promotes protection of the Grasslands themselves, which have gone through various amounts of degradation in India.
  • 03 Sites are proposed for the Introduction of the African Cheetah in India :-
  1. Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh
  2. Kuno – Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh
  3. Shahgarh Grasslands, Rajasthan
  • Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, in Madhya Pradesh, is spread over 1200 sq.km ; with access to contiguous forests in a landscape which is as large as 5500 sq.km. Predators such as the rare Indian Grey Wolf thrive here in these open rocky habitats.
  • Kuno Palpur, a combination of Savannah, Scrub Forest and Teak Forests, has already been cleared for relocation of the Lion, with around INR 20 Crore(USD 2.6 Million) spent by the government, in clearing out villages.
  • Shahgarh Landscape or the Shahgarh Bulge Landscape is a semi – arid area, of around 400 sq.km in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. With a low population of people here, and suitable open landscape with short grasses, is an ideal site for Introduction of the Cheetah. Prey density such as Chinkara and Blackbuck are available here.
  • The cost of the Project is estimated at INR 300 Crore(USD 39 Million), and between 20 – 40 Cheetahs could arrive in the next 18 months, from Namibia.
  • Reports suggest that the above 03 sites could support over 100 Cheetahs in the Wild in India.

Differences between African and Asiatic Cheetah

  • Asiatic Cheetahs are smaller than their cousins in Africa, growing up to 53 inches in length and weighing up to 120 pounds. African Cheetahs can reach lengths of 84 inches, and weigh up to 160 pounds.
  • The Asiatic Cheetah is a more paler buff colour to the golden – brown coat of the African Cheetah.
  • The Asiatic Cheetah has more fur on its belly and the back of its neck, in comparison the the African Cheetah.

Doubts about the Introduction of the African Cheetah in India

While there are yet serious doubts about the suitability of well-wooded habitats such as Nauradehi and Kuno – Palpur Wildlife Sanctuaries for the African Cheetah, the project has been given a green light.

The degradation and spread of invasive species plaguing grasslands all across India is also another serious matter of concern for Scientists around the world.

Ill – timed recent occurrences of Canine Distemper Virus spreading Gir, the last home of the Asiatic Wild Lion, has ramped up pressure for the relocation of the Asiatic Lion to Kuno – its “rightful” new home. Canine Distemper is a serious concern which affects all predators, and the fate of the Lion in India has long-been hanging by a thread.

Concerns for the African Cheetah with regards to deadly diseases such as Canine Distemper itself as well as Tuberculosis, has been a major factor in wiping out populations of the animal, in Africa. The introduction of an ‘’alien’’ species into the Indian Subcontinent is no doubt a risky prospect, despite the apparent homogeneity between the genes of the Asiatic and African Cheetah.

cheetah found in indian plains

All of the above being said, it is a fascinating prospect, of seeing the graceful and soft – spoken Cheetah back in its Eastern – most home, India, chasing indigenous prey, like its cousin, the Asiatic Cheetah does, amongst the rocky landscapes of Central to North India.

Can you imagine the Cheetah, going after the Blackbuck, Indian Gazelle and Four – Horned Antelope(Chowsingha) ? Like the Cheetah, we’re definitely licking our lips.

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