By Archana Sharma
Jaipur, July 24 : Should India reintroduce Cheetahs at this point of time? This is a question being debated among animal lovers and researchers as the facts regarding their existence in India are divided and contradictory.
However, the wildlife authorities in New Delhi are full of enthusiasm and have finalized Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno Palpur Sanctuary as the main habitat to host the first lot of Cheetahs from South Africa.
South Africa’s private animal farms have agreed to ‘donate’ their Cheetahs to India agreeing with the fact that no other predator, barring leopards, will resist the new entrants and the prey base is comparatively sufficient to sustain 3-4 new carnivore species.
While a few experts suggest that Cheetahs were brought to India centuries ago from the African jungles, other researchers say that the Cheetahs, born and brought up in India, had a happy existence in this country.
Divyabhanusinh, an author and former Vice President of the Bombay Natural History Society and a member of the Cat Specialist Group, says, “Cheetahs can be seen in cave drawings made centuries back. Our ancient literature also describes Cheetahs in detail. Where is the question of Cheetahs coming from Africa,” he questioned while talking to IANS.
It was only in the 20th century when Cheetahs became rare and extinct that the animal was brought here for the first time after 1918, he argued.
“After 1918, an Indian prince who wanted to hunt Cheetahs could not find Cheetahs and that’s when they started bringing Cheetahs from abroad, there were no Cheetah import records earlier to that. Research claims that one Cheetah was brought which lived in Alipur zoo in 1894 or 1892.
“In fact, when Tipu Sultan died, his cheetahs were sent from India to England, say records. (Medieval Indian emperor) Firozshah Tughlaq too had many Cheetahs, Akbar kept 1000 Cheetahs. So it’s impossible that this large number of Cheetahs were ever imported into india. However, this animal was brought in after 1918 by the Kolhapur and Bhavnagar princes.”
Divyabhanusinh was excited about Cheetahs being reintroduced into India and said that if this animal went extinct in India we should bring it back. We have the right areas which suffice for all requirements. Since 1952 discussions were on for the reintroduction of Cheetahs, he added.
On the other hand, wildlife expert Dharmendna Khandal said, “Cheetah is an African animal and not an Asian breed. They are two different species. We have a law that exotic species cannot be shifted to India until and unless rules are amended. If an animal is captive we cannot make him eat. This is a legal limitation. Next comes its viability. If 50 Cheetahs are shifted to one place, only then they will be viable and presently we have no place where 50 Cheetahs can be kept. So this is another limitation. Further, as decided, they will have enclosures but there is no plan when they will come out. Thirdly, grassland for Cheetahs is not available and we have to cut jungles to create grassland which is again wrong.”
It seems we are unnecessarily investing our energy in the wrong area, he said.
Divyabhanusinh’s much-quoted study, along with Kazmi (2019), claims to describe the ‘range of the Asiatic Cheetah during the British period and after in the Indian subcontinent’.
Published by the journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, it carries a compilation of 199 records of the Cheetah since 1772 and maps these across 15 Indian states and in Pakistan. His book on Cheetahs (The End of a Trail) is a compilation of several records of this animal in India’s zoos.
This BNHS published study has been scrutinized by wildlife biologists, Khandal and Ishan Dhar, working at Ranthambore as non-government sources on wild species.
Their critique is published in the magazine Seminar (July 2022 issue). They said, “We conducted a review of the records by applying a scientific protocol to categorize the data accumulated by Divyabhanusinh & Kazmi. A strong divergence in the interpretation of the data and conclusions followed… The inclusion of captive animals in a distributional study can skew findings, because of the possibility of such animals being taken far beyond their natural extents of occurrence by humans.”
Khandal and Ishan elaborate: “Cheetah trainers Chhuttan Khan and Chhotte Khan, both centurions, are still alive with their clear memory, They remember that their wards used to be brought from Kabul, Afghanistan and Africa. They inform that there were no wild Cheetahs in the princely state of Jaipur.”
“The editorial board of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society should have ensured a thorough review to prevent the most elementary of errors, such as there being no scientific protocol. With the Cheetah reintroduction currently under consideration, now is the perfect opportunity for a new generation of burgeoning young scientists in India to begin interpreting data gathered by historians and determine the true picture of the Cheetah’s historical distribution in India,” they add.