India should fence two to three habitats for cheetahs as there has never been a successful reintroduction into an unfenced reserve, an African wildlife expert has said, reported PTI.

“It [reintroduction] has been attempted 15 times in Africa and it failed every time,” Vincent van der Merwe said. “We are not advocating that India must fence all of its cheetah reserves, we are saying that just fence two or three and create source reserves to top up sink reserves.”

Since 20 cheetahs were translocated from South Africa and Namibia to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park last year, six, including three born in India, have died.

The first cheetah, Sasha, had 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 on May 9.

On Tuesday, a cub, born to a female cheetah named Jwala, had died on Tuesday. On Thursday, two more cheetah cubs, born to Jwala, died. A third cub is under treatment in a serious but stable condition.

On Thursday, Merwe, who has been closely involved with the relocation project, claimed that the project could see a higher mortality in areas outside the fenced enclosures in the next few months.

“That’s where the real dangers lie,” he told PTI. “That’s where you can expect mortality due to hunting injury. The cheetahs, of course, will continue to establish territories and fight with each other and kill each other for territories and for access to females. They’re going to encounter leopards. There are now tigers moving around in Kuno. The worst mortalities are still to come,” he said.

Last week, the Supreme Court had expressed concern about the deaths and asked the Centre to consider shifting the felines to an alternate location. The court, citing expert opinions and news articles about the deaths, had said that the Kuno National Park may not be sufficient to accommodate so many cheetahs.

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.

Centre sets up high-level panel

On Thursday, the Central government set up an 11-member high-level steering committee to review and monitor the progress of the cheetah reintroduction programme, reported PTI.

The committee will review, progress, monitor and give advice on the cheetah introduction to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

The panel will be in-force for two years and will hold at least one meeting every month. It will be headed by the Secretary General of Global Tiger Forum Rajesh Gopal.