The union government has sought the Supreme Court’s approval to undertake a project to re-introduce cheetahs in India.
Tracing the creature’s history, the government said it was incorrect to suggest that cheetah is a foreign animal. Several parts of northern India under the Mughal empire had habitats occupied by cheetahs.
Reintroduction of the cheetah in India involves the artificial re-establishment of a population of cheetahs into areas where they had previously existed but were hunted into extinction by the British colonial officers and Indian royalty.
A part of the reintroduction process is the identification and restoration of their former grassland scrub forest habitats. This is within the scope of the duties of the local forest department of each State, where relocation occurs, through the use of Indian Central Government funding.
In an application filed before the top court, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has asked it to clarify its 2013 order, which had then quashed a notification issued by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change to introduce African cheetah at the Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
Suitable sites have been identified by the Wildlife Institute of India. These include Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, and Shahgarh area in Rajasthan.
Kuno was found most appropriate, considering its feasibility on account of its improved habitat status owing to relocation of 24 villages. The three sites continue to be monitored by the Wildlife Institute of India. More sites can be examined if the court permits.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the species was already heading for extinction in many areas. The last physical evidence of the Asiatic cheetah in India was thought to be three, all shot by the Maharajah Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Surguja in 1947, in eastern Madhya Pradesh or northern Chhattisgarh, a man also noted for holding a record for shooting 1,360 tigers, but a female was sighted in Koriya district, in what is now Chhattisgarh, in 1951.