Valmik Thapar says “full of enemies, lack of prey”: hyenas, leopards, dogs can kill cheetahs, also worried about what they will eat in new environment
On the day when 8 cheetahs were brought from Africa as part of the animal’s historic reintroduction to India, leading conservationist Valmik Thapar expressed concern about “how the cheetah will walk, hunt, feed and raise its cubs” at Kuno National. Park in Madhya Pradesh, where it faces “lack of space and prey”.
“The area is full of hyenas and leopards, which are the main enemies of the cheetah. If you look in Africa, hyenas chase and kill leopards,” he said. “There are 150 villages around, which have dogs that can tear apart a leopard. He is a very docile animal.”
The speed and space of the cheetah
Asked why the cheetah, the fastest mammal on earth, could not outrun its attackers, he cited the difference in terrain. “In places like the Serengeti (a national park in Tanzania), leopards can escape because there is a large area of grassland. In Kuno, unless you convert the woodland into grassland, it is a problem… to turn corners quickly on stony ground, through sheer obstacles, is a big challenge (for cheetahs).
“Can the government convert woodland into grassland? Does the law allow this,” he asked rhetorically.
Mr Thapar listed tigers as another potential threat to cheetahs in Kuno: “Sometimes tigers from Ranthambore also come here, which is one reason the lions could not be relocated. It’s not often. But we have to close that corridor too.”
What will they eat?
He also listed problems with finding prey. “In the Serengeti, there are over a million gazelles available. In Kuno, unless we raise and bring in antelopes or chinkaras (which live on grasslands), cheetahs have to hunt spotted deer, which are wild animals and can hide. These deer also have large horns and can injure leopards. And the leopard cannot afford injury; It is mostly fatal for them.”
“We already needed to breed chinkara and antelope. Although we try to make history,” he said, “I’m not sure why we’re doing it at this level. There are many problems with native species. We need to find a balance.”
He said the cheetah has long been a “royal pet” and has “never killed a human being”. “He is very gentle, very delicate. [Rehabilitation] is a big challenge.”
Earlier today, wearing sunglasses and a safari hat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cranked a lever to release a pack of cheetahs from Namibia into a special enclosure in Kuno.
The Prime Minister – after releasing the cheetahs was seen clicking his photographs of the cheetahs. The leopards, five females and three males, will be kept in a quarantine enclosure for about a month before being released into the open forest areas of the park.
The species was declared extinct in India in 1952.
Valmik Thapar emphasized that they do not do well in breeding. “There are only 6,500 to 7,100 left in the world. And the mortality rate (death at the pupal stage) is 95 percent. For now eight have been brought, and more will be brought, it is a huge task. They need to be monitored 24-by-7 to make sure they are alive.”
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