Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav on Saturday said that the cheetahs will remain in the Kuno national park in Madhya Pradesh and asserted that the project will be successful, reported PTI.
“We are in touch with experts, including international experts,” he said, “Our team will visit there. The cheetahs will not be relocated and will remain in Kuno only.”
Eight cheetah have died in less than four months. Twenty cheetahs were translocated from South Africa and Namibia.
Sasha was the first cheetah to die 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. Three cubs born in India also died in May. The seventh cheetah, Tejas, died on Tuesday.
Yadav made the comments after experts raised concerns that some recent deaths could possibly be due to infection caused by radio collars, according to PTI.
Rajesh Gopal, the head of the cheetah monitoring committee set up by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, said the reason for the deaths could be septicemia from radio collar.
“It is highly unusual,” he told PTI. “I have also seen it for the first time. It’s a cause for concern and we have directed [forest staff] to check all the cheetahs.”
Gopal said it was possible that aberrations and humid weather could lead to infection from the collar.
“We have been using collars in wildlife conservation for around 25 years in India,” he added. “I have never come across such an incident. We have good, smart collars available these days. Still if such an incident is happening, we will have to bring it to the notice of manufacturers.”
Vincent van der Merwe, a South Africa expert on cheetah metapopulation, also suggested that septicemia could be possible reason of the death of two cheetahs this week.
The reason is not clear behind the death Suraj, who died in Saturday. But, the autopsy of Tejas showed that the feline was unable to recover from a “traumatic shock” after a violent fight with a female cheetah.
Merwe said that extreme wet conditions are causing the radio collars to create infection and that could be a possible reason behind fatalities.
He, however, added: “We still have 75 per cent of the founder population alive and well in India. So all is still on track with observed mortality well within normal parameters for wild cheetah reintroduction.”
Experts have also said India does not have the habitat or prey species for African cheetahs and that the project may not fulfil its aim of grassland conservation.
Also read: The dark clouds over India’s cheetah project
On Friday, state Forest Minister Vijay Shah said the exact cause of Suraj’s death will be known after postmortem. On other fatalities, Shah said that the three cubs that died were malnourished from birth itself while other deaths were from fights during mating or eating, which is common among animals.
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.
In June, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav had said that the government takes full responsibility for the deaths of the cheetahs.