Work to set up enclosures for 12 cheetahs from South Africa begins in Kuno

THE Madhya Pradesh government is preparing to set up quarantine bomas (enclosures) within the existing 5 sq km enclosure for another dozen cheetahs which are expected to arrive from South Africa at the Kuno-Palpur National Park before the end of the year. The first batch of eight cheetahs from Namibia reached the park on September 17.

“A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the South African government and India is at an advanced stage. It is only a matter of time before the MoU is signed, clearing the decks for the translocation project. Once done, we will expedite the process of translocating the cheetahs,” said Ashok Barnwal, Principal Secretary (Forest), Madhya Pradesh.

The location to set up quarantine bomas for the 12 cheetahs arriving from South Africa has been identified, said Uttam Sharma, Chief Conservator of Forest at Kuno-Palpur National Park.

Posters announcing the arrival of the cheetahs in Kuno (Credit: Shahroz Khan Afridi)

“We have begun procurement of material for the bomas.

Backed with the experience of setting up the six quarantine bomas for the eight cheetahs from Namibia, it will take us less than 15 days to set up similar bomas for the big cats from South Africa,” he said.

State forest department officials said the South African delegation was satisfied with the situation on the ground. The delegation is expected to submit a report to the South African government following its review of the quarantine enclosures for cheetahs in the Kuno park. The South African government will take a final call on sending cheetahs after a meeting on October 4.

Kuno forest, eye cover, sunday eye Inside the Kuno forest (Credit: Shahroz Khan Afridi)

YV Jhala, Dean, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), told The Indian Express that a four-member delegation from South Africa, which visited the parks in Kuno and adjoining Ranthambore in September, was initially apprehensive about the survival of cheetahs in India.

“The delegation saw that tigers, which are fiercer than cheetahs, were living in Ranthambore with merely a boundary wall dividing the forest area from the rural population. The cheetahs are far less a threat to human life and livestock,” he said.

In the meantime, Sheopur district that houses the Kuno-Palpur National Park is preparing for a massive awareness drive, covering not only the 151 villages of Kuno wildlife division but the adjacent wildlife division as well.

Bhupendra Yadav, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is expected to visit Sheopur mid-October to participate in the awareness drive and also explore avenues of ecotourism with joint meetings of officials from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

cheetah, eye cover, sunday eye Foundation stone laid by forest minister for construction of enclosure for Project Cheetah (Credit: Shahroz Khan Afridi)

Reintroduction of an extinct species would be considered successful only after a viable meta-population is established not only in Kuno but in at least two-three more reserves in India. The Cheetah Action Plan, released in January this year, notes that a short-term success would be survival of 50 percent of the translocated cheetahs in the first year.

State forest officials noted that the new batch of cheetahs in mid-October will take their total number in Kuno to 20. Going by the Cheetah Action Plan, even if 10 of these survive the first year, it will be seen as a short-term success.

The cheetahs are expected to come in close contact with human settlements after their release from the soft enclosure. Jhala said sharing the revenue earned from cheetah tourism with the local community will also help in developing a safe environment for the big cat’s reintroduction.

“The land rate in Sheopur has gone up multi-fold, and this is a bubble. There needs to be a viable and consistent revenue model that needs to be worked out for the local community such as sharing 30 per cent of the gate revenue of the National Park. The villagers have to see the economic benefits of the programme,” Jhala said.

The Cheetah Action Plan also points out that 40 per cent of the tourist revenue would be plowed back into the buffer zone towards local community welfare, with preference to those communities that have been resettled from within Kuno National Park.

Divisional Forest Officer, PK Verma said during the awareness campaign in October, apart from making the villagers understand the difference between a cheetah and a leopard, the villagers are also being made aware of the various jobs they can apply for including tourist guides, guards, and safari organizers. “We will be training them for these jobs,” he said.

Kuno National Park is also getting specialized sniffer dogs to locate snares laid not just by poachers but also by the villagers to catch any herbivore that might come to their field or near their settlement.

“We want to ensure there is no accidental injury or killing of any cheetahs in any of these snares. We presently have one dog from our Jabalpur unit which is being deployed in and around market places and villages. More such dogs are set to arrive,” said CCF Uttam Sharma.

Comments are closed.