This Article is From Aug 01, 2023

"Cheetah Deaths In Kuno National Park Not Unduly Alarming": Supreme Court Told

"It is respectfully submitted that the NTCA today has no reason to believe that the mortalities were caused on account of any inherent unsuitability at the Kuno site," it said.

'Cheetah Deaths In Kuno National Park Not Unduly Alarming': Supreme Court Told

It said prophylactic treatment is being administered to all surviving cheetahs. (Representational)

New Delhi:

The Ministry of Environment and Forests and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) have told the Supreme Court the death of five adult cheetahs and three cubs at KNP is troubling but not "unduly alarming", and the surviving big cats are being captured and medically examined as a precautionary measure.

Under the Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared animals were imported from Namibia and South Africa to the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh and later four cubs were born from Namibian cheetah 'Jwala'. Out of these 24 feline, eight including three cubs have died. Some cheetahs were reported to have developed infections due to radio collars.

The joint affidavit, filed on behalf of the environment ministry and NTCA, said the provisional diagnosis of mortality events points towards "natural causes" and none of the cheetahs have died due to unnatural reasons such as poaching, snaring, poisoning, road hits, electrocution etc.

"It is respectfully submitted that the NTCA today has no reason to believe that the mortalities were caused on account of any inherent unsuitability at the Kuno site," it said.

The affidavit said the general scientific awareness is that being an integral part of the ecosystem, cheetahs in general have very low survival rate of 50 per cent in adults even in non-introduced populations. Non-introduced cheetah populations are essentially native species.

"In the case of introduced population the survival rates are even much lower taking other variables into account which may lead to about 10 per cent survival in cubs, and thus, mortalities (at KNP) though troubling and in need of redressal and curtailment are not unduly alarming," it said.

Giving the details of each and every cheetah death, including three cubs, translocated from South Africa and Namibia, the NTCA said the programme for their introduction is being implemented in accordance with the 'Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India'.

"As per the said action plan, the mortality of cheetahs before release into free ranging condition may happen due to intraspecific fights, diseases, accidents and post release of animals into free ranging condition, the mortality might result from injury caused during hunting of prey, poaching, road hits, poisoning and predatory attack by other predators etc. "Considering the possible scenarios the Action Plan has made provision for annual supplementation of the initial founder population annually for managing the demographic and genetic composition of the introduction population," it said.

The NTCA said out of 20 translocated adult cheetahs, 15 adult cheetahs and 1 Indian born cub are surviving as on date.

The authority said a steering committee comprising experts from various fields such as wildlife, forest, social science, ecology, veterinary sciences etc. has been constituted to oversee and monitor the effective implementation of project cheetah.

"Further, for veterinary care, day to day management and monitoring and other specific aspects related to ecology and behaviour of cheetahs is being done in consultation with international experienced cheetah experts, when and where required, and in conformity with the scientific Action Plan. The best possible veterinary support and health care is provided to the cheetahs to ensure their survival in the natural ecosystem," it said.

The affidavit said in view of the recent deaths, various steps have been taken to ensure the well-being of the surviving cheetahs.

Highlighting the steps, it said all remaining cheetahs are being captured and critical medical examination done. Thirteen 13 adults and 1 cub have already been captured and treated.

It said prophylactic treatment is being administered to all surviving cheetahs and a review of project implementation is being undertaken.

The affidavit said international experts are being consulted and further training and capacity building of veterinarians, frontline staff and officials in cheetah management is being undertaken.

On July 20, the top court had observed that the death of eight cheetahs in the KNP in less than one year doesn't present a "good picture" and asked the Centre to not make it a prestige issue and explore the possibility of shifting the animals to different sanctuaries.

The top court, while voicing concern over the feline deaths, had asked the Centre to file a detailed affidavit explaining the reasons and remedial measures taken.

The top court had on May 18 expressed serious concern over the cheetah deaths and asked the Centre to rise above politics and consider shifting the animals, which became extinct in the country in 1947-48, to Rajasthan.

The top court is hearing an application filed by the Centre seeking direction from the court that it is no longer necessary for the NTCA to continue taking guidance and advice of the expert committee appointed by the top court through an order dated January 28, 2020.

The Centre had said in its application that according to the action plan for cheetah introduction in India, annually 8-14 big cats are required to be brought in from African countries at least for the next five years, and a memorandum of understanding to that effect has been signed by the government of India with Namibia and South Africa.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)