Cheetahs at Kuno may return to enclosures for examination, drone monitoring being considered, say officials

09:13 AM Jul 18, 2023 | PTI |

All radio-collared free-ranging cheetahs at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh may be brought back to their enclosures for close examination and drones could potentially be used to monitor their movement in the wild, officials have said.


The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had on Sunday said media reports attributing the deaths of the big cats to factors such as radio collars were based on ”speculation and hearsay, without scientific evidence”.

However, some experts playing a key role in the cheetah reintroduction project acknowledged that a male cheetah from South Africa did die due to an infection from radio collar use.

An official who participated in a Cheetah Project Steering Committee meeting on Monday said: ”All radio-collared cheetahs could be brought back to their enclosures for close monitoring.” The official said another expert from South Africa would arrive at the KNP on Tuesday to provide essential insights on cheetah observation and treatment.

During the meeting, the potential use of drones connected to radio collars for monitoring the cheetahs over hilly terrain or in inclement weather, including the monsoon season, was also discussed.


South African experts have requested the Indian government to keep them informed about the cheetah deaths investigation, planned additional measures and related developments.

One of them involved in the cheetah project told the committee that the loss of 50 per cent of the founder population within the first year of the animals being released in the wild falls within acceptable standards.

The experts highlighted that no radio collar-related issue has been encountered in South Africa and that innovative management actions will be necessary to prevent such mortalities.

They emphasised the importance of exchanging southern African and Indian metapopulations to ensure long-term genetic and demographic viability.

The environment ministry on Sunday said five of the 20 adult cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa died due to natural causes and the media reports attributing the deaths to factors such as radio collars were based on ”speculation and hearsay, without scientific evidence”.

Male cheetah Suraj, translocated from South Africa, died at the KNP in Sheopur on Friday, while another translocated male cheetah, Tejas, died last Tuesday.

Rajesh Gopal, the head of the Cheetah Project Steering Committee, had told PTI that the reason for the cheetahs’ deaths could be septicemia from radio collar use.

”It is highly unusual. It is a cause for concern and we have directed (the Madhya Pradesh forest department staff) to check all the cheetahs.

”We have been using collars in wildlife conservation for around 25 years in India. I have never come across such an incident. We have good, smart collars available these days. Still, if such an incident takes place, we will have to bring it to the notice of the manufacturers,” he had said.

South African cheetah metapopulation expert Vincent van der Merwe had said extreme wet conditions are causing the radio collars to create the infection and possibly, that is the reason behind the cheetahs’ deaths.

The ministry said the cheetah project is still in progress and it would be ”premature to judge its success or failure within a year”.

Several steps have been planned to support the cheetah project, including the establishment of a Cheetah Research Centre with facilities for rescue, rehabilitation, capacity building and interpretation.

More forest areas will be brought under the administrative control of the KNP for landscape-level management, the ministry said.

Additional frontline staff will be deployed and a Cheetah Protection Force will be set up, it said, adding that a second home for cheetahs is envisioned in the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared animals were imported from Namibia and South Africa to the KNP.

After the mandatory quarantine period, the cheetahs were moved to larger acclimatisation enclosures. Currently, 11 cheetahs are in free-ranging conditions while five, including a cub born in India, are within a quarantine enclosure. Each free-ranging cheetah is closely monitored by a dedicated team.


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