The deaths of two cheetahs out of 20, which were translocated to India from Africa is within the expected mortality rate of the conservation project, South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said on Thursday.
The first cheetah, Sasha, from Namibia, had died in March 27 due to renal infection. On April 23, a second cheetah named Uday, translocated from South Africa in February, had died. He was among the 12 felines. They were among the 20 cheetahs brought from Namibia and South African to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park.
On Thursday, the South African department said in a statement while an autopsy is awaited that there is no indication that Uday died due to an infectious disease. It also said that there is no similar threat to any of the other cheetahs.
“All the South African cheetahs are in larger enclosures and are closely monitored twice daily,” the statement said. “As they are wild cheetahs, their behaviour, movements and body condition must be evaluated from a distance, limiting the ability of teams on the ground to gain precise knowledge of their health status.”
It added: “Large carnivore reintroductions are extremely complex and inherently risky operations. This is a critical phase of the project, with cheetahs being released into larger environments where there is increasingly less control over their day-to-day wellbeing. The risks for injury and mortality will be increasing and these risks are factored into the reintroduction plan.”
The department added that it expects a few of the founder population to be lost within the first year after they are released.
“Many of the released cheetahs will escape the boundaries of Kuno National Park and may have to go through short-term stress during the recapture process,” it added. “Once the cheetahs have established home ranges, the situation will stabilise.”
The preliminary autopsy carried out by a five-member team including a forensic scientist said that Uday died due to cardiopulmonary failure, reported The Indian Express.
The six-year-old cheetah suffered a severe case of botulism, which is the possible cause for his death. Botulism is a rare condition that is caused when a toxin attacks the body’s nervous system and eventually causes paralysis.
“The Jabalpur institute will carry out a more detailed examination only after which we will get to know what caused the pulmonary failure,’’ Madhya Pradesh Chief Wildlife Warden JS Chauhan told The Indian Express.
Seven decades after the cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952, the Union government launched a programme to reintroduced the species into the country. The wild cats were last recorded in the country in 1948, when three cheetahs were shot in the Sal forests in Chhattisgarh’s Koriya district.
While releasing the eight cheetahs from Namibia in the Kuno National Park, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India has a chance to restore an element of biodiversity that had been lost long ago.
However, experts say that India does not have the habitat or prey species to support African cheetahs and that the project may not fulfil its aim of grassland conservation.