Wildlife & Biodiversity

Cheetah reintroduction project comes up at CMS CoP 13

The Supreme Court cleared way for reintroduction of species in India on January 28, 2020

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 20 February 2020
On January 28, the Supreme Court cleared the way for reintroduction of the species in India. Source: iStock

Preparations underway for bringing cheetah in India — more than 70 years after they became extinct — came up at 13th Conference of Parties (CoP) to United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in Gandhinagar on February 18, 2020. 

On January 28, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the reintroduction of the species in India.

“The cheetahs were hunted down and became extinct. We are going to bring them back. Restorative ecology is a norm across the world. We have enormous political will to make this happen,” YV Jhala, dean, Wildlife Institute of India, said at the CoP.

The species is taken to have gone extinct in India after the ruler of an erstwhile princely state in Koriya, Chhattisgarh, gunned down the last three Asiatic cheetahs in 1947. Some though reported spotting a female cheetah in 1951.

The issue hit a roadblock in 2013 due to opposition by the Gujarat government. Kuno-Palpur, the chosen site, was also identified for the relocation of the Asiatic lion, the government had said.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) moved a petition the same year to re-introduce cheetah. “It has taken so long to get the court to allow the re-introduction of the cheetah,” MK Ranjitsinh, the head of a court-appointed committee to help NTCA, had said.

“The cheetah is the only species to have gone extinct in India. Now that the court has ruled in favour of the reintroduction, it will hopefully happen soon," Soumitra Dasgupta, inspector general (wildlife), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, told Down to Earth.

Dasgupta added that there was no component for cheetah reintroduction in the current budget as the court order came after the budgetary allocations for wildlife had already been made.

“But now that we have the approval of the court, the budgetary questions will be dealt with,” he added.

The court asked NTCA to conduct a survey to find a new site to reassess the potential of Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and see if there were any sites which might prove to be better. The court asked NTCA to submit reports every four months.

“Cheetah is a flagship species of a highly endangered ecosystem of the country — the grasslands. It is also the only species to go extinct in peninsular India in historical times. We could not save the cheetah earlier, but if we allow any other species to go extinct now, it will be because we allowed it to happen,” Ranjitsinh said. 

However, cost of the project and its impact on the conservation of existing species were among the concerns raised.

“While the project is great, there are huge costs involved. There is a need to save what we already have,” said Sue Lieberman of Wildlife Conservation Society.


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