Wildlife & Biodiversity

We have become mere window dressing for Project Cheetah: South African experts in letter to Supreme Court

Our involvement minimised ever since Yadavendradev Jhala, who conceptualised and led the project, was removed, allege experts

By Himanshu Nitnaware, Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 03 August 2023
A cheetah in Kruger National Park. Photo: iStock__

Four cheetah experts from South Africa have claimed that they are now “mere window dressing” for Project Cheetah and are being ignored by the Union government on important developments that take place.

Adrian Tordiffe, Veterinary Wildlife Specialist, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria; Vincent van der Merwe, cheetah specialist, The Metapopulation Initiative; Andy Frazer, wildlife veterinarian, Rooiberg Veterinary Services; Mike Toft; wildlife veterinarian, Kifaru Wildlife Veterinary  Services, wrote a letter addressed to judges in the Supreme court on July 15, where they alleged that their involvement had been minimised ever since Yadavendradev Jhala, who conceptualised and led the project, was removed.

“As experts from South Africa involved in Project Cheetah, we hereby wish to bring to your attention some serious concerns that we have with regards to the current management of the project and the way in which our expert opinions are being ignored by the Steering Committee of the project,” the letter read.

The experts cited the deaths of male cheetahs, Suraj on July 14 and Tejas on July 11 at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh to emphasise that they were being ignored:

Although these incidents were unforeseen, our concern is that had we been shown pictures or even had a description of the wounds on the first animal earlier in the week, we would have made the diagnosis on Tuesday, alerting authorities to the problem four days earlier and allowing appropriate action to be taken to minimise the risks to the other animals. Instead, we were largely excluded from the process and had to beg for information to understand what had taken place.

The experts continued that although they are listed on the Cheetah Project Steering Committee as international experts, they have never been consulted or invited to any of their meetings.

For instance, on being notified of a steering committee meeting scheduled for July 14, Tordiffe replied to the email asking if it would be possible to attend the meeting online.

“This request was completely ignored. It seems that we have become mere window dressing for the project,” the letter noted

The experts noted that while they would not like to dictate how the cheetahs should be managed in India, they are all invested in the project and working as hard as they can to ensure a successful outcome.

“We entered into this partnership in good faith. Much of that capital was due to the relationship we had built with Prof Jhala and our belief in his expertise and leadership. The current management at Kuno National Park have little or no scientific training and the majority of the veterinarians there are too inexperience to manage a project of this calibre. Most of the current steering committee members are unknown to us and they seem to show little interest in our  pinions,” the letter said.

They requested that the collars of each cheetah must be checked and the clinical findings be shared with them in real time.

The experts also urged opening of communication channels to allow the timeous sharing of information and opinions before information is shared with media.

The scientists called for their active inclusion and participation in the activities of the Steering Committee besides the inclusion of a senior Indian carnivore scientist (like Jhala) and experienced veterinary personnel onsite at Kuno National Park to oversee the monitoring, veterinary care and ongoing research aspects of this project.

“This project is of critical importance not only to India but to international cheetah conservation. If it fails, it will be years before conservationists will be brave enough or have the opportunity to attempt something similar.

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