Two elephants are being deployed to chase away four leopards from an enclosure in Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park meant to house cheetahs during an acclimatization phase after they arrive here from Africa as part of an ambitious reintroduction project, officials said on Sunday.
The elephants, along with their mahouts, embarked on the 800-kilometre journey to KNP from Sitapur Tiger Reserve on Sunday morning on trucks stocked with all essential items, STR Director L Krishnamurthy told PTI.
As per forest officials, such trained elephants are used for a variety of tasks, including encircling animals for tranquilization, driving away invasive animals, spotting amid monsoon and overgrown thicket etc.
Six leopards had entered the enclosure, spread over 5 square kilometres, meant for the cheetahs, and while two had been chased away, efforts over several days to drive the remainder were in vain, officials admitted.
The cheetahs, which are expected to arrive next month from South Africa and Namibia, need time to acclimatize due to the long journey as well as new environment here.
Talking to PTI earlier, MP Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) JS Chauhan had admitted that the cheetahs may be under stress because of the long journey, due to which keeping them in an enclosure for acclimatization was necessary.
Cheetahs went extinct in India in 1952 and the 'African Cheetah Introduction Project in India' has been underway since 2009, before picking up speed in the last few years.
While India has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Namibian government for the import of cheetahs, it is also in the process of inking agreements with private game reserves in South Africa and the government there for more big cats, officials had earlier said.
Most of the cheetahs have been donated, while India also plans to buy some from private game reserves at USD 3,000-4,000 per animal, they had informed.