The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed concern about the deaths of three cheetahs translocated from South Africa and Namibia to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh and asked the Centre to consider shifting the felines to an alternate location, reported Live Law.

Three cheetahs have died in the park in less than two months. The first cheetah, Sasha, had died in died due to a kidney ailment on March 27. The second feline, Uday, died due to cardio-pulmonary failure on April 24. The third one, Daksha, died during a mating attempt.

They were among the 20 cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa to India.

A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol was hearing the Centre’s petition that it was no longer necessary and mandatory for the National Tiger Conservation Authority to continue taking the guidance and advice of the expert committee appointed by the court in January 2020.

At Thursday’s hearing, the bench, citing expert opinions and news articles about the deaths, said that the Kuno National Park may not be sufficient to accommodate so many cheetahs.

“Look for an alternative, either in Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan,” the court said. “Whatever terrain is possible. You should be more interested in Rajasthan. I would be happy if it is Maharashtra.”

The court added that just because Rajasthan is ruled by the Opposition party does not mean shifting the cheetahs there cannot be considered, reported PTI. “Don’t bring party-politics into this issue,” it said.

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati told the court that a task force, along with experts, is investigating all scenarios, including shifting them to other sanctuaries.

On the death of Sasha, the court asked why the female cheetah was cleared to be brought to India if the feline was suffering from an ailment.

“You are bringing the cheetahs from abroad, it’s a good thing,” the bench said. “But they need to be protected. They need to be given suitable habitat, why don’t you explore for more suitable habitat than Kuno.”

Bhati said one cheetah has given birth to four cubs and this shows they are acclimatising in Kuno. She also said Mukundara National Park in Rajasthan is ready to accept the cheetahs and the task force is also considering transferring some of them to other national parks in Madhya Pradesh.

“There are no cheetah experts in India as cheetahs went extinct from the country in 1947-48,” she said. “Since then our officials have been to South Africa, Namibia and undergone specialised training on cheetah management.”

Bhati added that if the court is considering hearing the views of experts, then it should listen to all of them and not one or two of them who have a particular kind of opinions.

The cheetahs were reintroduced to India seven decades after the species was declared extinct in the country. The cheetah was officially declared extinct by the Indian government in 1952. 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.

In February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India has a chance to restore an element of biodiversity that had been lost long ago by reintroducing the felines.

However, experts say that India does not have the habitat or prey species for African cheetahs and that the project may not fulfil its aim of grassland conservation.

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