Cheetah Introduction -The Bigger Picture

For long, Cheetah “Introduction” project is on the cards. Its on par with Asiatic lion relocation from Gir,Gujarat to Madhya-pradesh. But, lot of questions are in the mind of conservationists about this exotic sub-species. Let us clear our basics first.

Its not reintroduction (because Asiatic cheetah is the one that got extinct in India). We are “introducing” a new sub-species called ” African cheetah”. African cheetah and Asiatic cheetah diverged about 67,000 years ago and evolved separately. For some reasons, we couldn’t get Asiatic Cheetah (hardly 100 in wild) which is in dire need of protection than the African one.

Though hard to spot, definitely there is a difference between them.

Pc:Google Images
  1. Place – obvious from the name. African cheetah owing to availability of huge land area, is in good numbers in Africa. But at present Asiatic cheetah is hard to find outside Iran.
  2. Size – from leg to head, African cheetah is slightly bigger than the Asiatic one. It means, Asiatic one might be faster than the African one (no data available on this).
  3. Skin and spots – Asiatic ones have more fur and light color. African ones have darker spots than Asian.
  4. Diet – Asiatic cheetah (hardly 100 left) restricted to small area and thus diet range is less. But African one (10,000 in number), ruling huge grassland of Africa, thus having around 25+ herbivores under it’s diet preference. That’s one of the reason why experts believe that African cheetah can adapt soon to Indian terrain and prey base.
  5. Sub-species – African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) and Asian cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) are two different sub-species and not different species altogether. This means, their morphological difference is due to their geographical location. There might be some genetic difference or might not. So, as many pointed out that we are introducing a different species, is not actually factually correct. We are introducing a different sub-species which is genetically closer, that was inter-breeding 70,000 years ago.

And for your surprise, the genetic study of Cheetah sub-species revealed that, India’s cheetah genetic samples matched with both North western African Cheetah and Asiatic cheetah in Iran. Further even with in Africa, there are 4 different sub-species in different geographical region. The mitochondrial analyses of sub-species infer a close relationship of Asiatic with Southern African cheetahs (A. j. jubatus- the one that we are introducing). But nonetheless there is a genetic variation which is even prevalent with in the subspecies of Africa.

Now, coming to the controversies around Cheetah “Introduction”.

  1. Supreme Court initially rejected but later in 2020, revised it’s order saying that it’s not “Re-introduction” but “Introduction”. Since, lions and Cheetah are co-habiting savanna in Africa, they are convinced that at no means Cheetah introduction affects Lion relocation from Gir.
  2. MoEFCC said that given the unavailability of the Asiatic one, it’s better to relocate the close relative. Reason, Cheetah is the only big cat that got extinct in modern India. And now we are in a position to bring back this big cat.
  3. Cheetah is just a name, there is a bigger picture of protecting grassland ecosystem which must be seen. Like keeping Tiger as a mascot, we are saving our entire forest ecosystem that resulted in saving sources of many rivers of India (Tiger Reserves are source of many rivers of India).

Now, we are losing our grasslands. We had cheetah in the past, which is a grassland species. Definitely, a big cat gives huge conservation push and act as a umbrella species for the grassland ecosystem conservation (As like Tiger success story). With Cheetah, we need to protect grasslands. This will help to rope in more budget and thus more work on grassland management. This will help in survival of other species like Caracal, Lesser florican etc.. Which are facing huge threat owing to degradation of grasslands. Further, we are losing many precious wild grass varieties. Its being projected that a big cat like Cheetah will help solving the problem of India’s grassland degradation issue.

A budget for Cheetah habitat recovery will include following works like Grassland management (brush wood removal, removal of inedible grasses), Stopping over grazing, reduction in forest fires as we will be getting more forest watchers for grassland protection and above all, discouraging unscientific afforestation that treats grassland as wasteland and converting them into thick-wood canopies. Grassland needs more intervention from us than forest. Its management is in need of a mascot/an umbrella species that gives a face, that brings people and political will together .

African Cheetah .PC: Google Image

Yes, it’s an exotic sub-species. But not going to be invasive as India has Tigers, Leopard and Lion which will keep population of Cheetah in check as like in Africa. Further, it will be first released in the enclosure before being released in the wild. Thus there will be enough time and data that going to tell us that whether this project is feasible or not. Project has been initiated after series of field visits by high level expert committee headed by WII, NTCA and forest officers from Madhya-pradesh and Rajasthan. All done under our Honorable Supreme Court supervision.

One may ask how experts are sure about their survival?. They did field study. And all the decisions were made based on prey base study and grassland mapping. Even for Asiatic Cheetah we don’t have a baseline data, as it got locally extinct before even we started thinking about its conservation. So, even if we have to introduce the Asiatic one, then you have to believe experts.

Asiatic Cheetah from India ,used for hunting.

And its not only a happy moment for Conservationists and forest officers but also for pastoralists and forest dependent communities. For long their grassland is diminishing. With the introduction of Cheetah, now grassland management will get more attention and thus their needs will be addressed too. In Kuno and 5 other National parks which were being considered for Cheetah and Lion, doing grassland management for past 5 to 10 years. This helped protecting grassland species there. With arrival of Cheetah, the voice for grassland management will reach more.

And I personally believe, this is not just an effort to conserve Cheetah, but its policy makers and foresters effort to push grassland conservation in the name of Cheetah introduction. Let us move towards something big with Cheetah being our Mascot.

Ps: The above article is based on my personal opinion after reading various articles available in public domain and not views of Government of India.

Citation:

1.https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.14.949081v2.full

2.Cheeat Introduction -Feasibility Study by WII and Forest officers of Madhyapradesh and Rajasthan.

Comments
4 Responses to “Cheetah Introduction -The Bigger Picture”
  1. VIJAYKUMAR M SORATUR says:

    Thankyou sir☺️, it was very informative and helpful in understanding the working, progress and interdependence of one class of (Grassland) with other species (cheetah), which make holistic approach to conservation and I came to know about importance of Grassland , posts like this encourage and helpful in knowing basic information, thank you again 😍

  2. C. Sri Lahari says:

    Sir….the article is excellently written and very informative. Thanks for sharing this information.

  3. Gowtham says:

    Hii sir.. Very much informative.
    May I know the difference between cheetah, leopard and jaguar. I’m confused btw these things sir

  4. Moannish A N says:

    Good evening sir
    I’m A.N.MOANNISH From salem
    Studying B.Sc agriculture final year at trichy .
    My goal is to become an IFS Officer (become I love forest , animals,birds ) more and more .
    I want be work for them .
    I also want become as an IFS officer sir ….
    I’m from salem sir near you
    I need guidance and blessings from u … Like to get knowledge from u sir ..
    Thank you

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