The Madhya Pradesh government on Monday removed Indian Forest Service officer JS Chauhan as the state’s chief wildlife warden, PTI reported.
He has been replaced by Asim Srivastava, a 1988 batch Indian Forest Service officer.
The change comes amid the death of cheetahs in the state’s Kuno National Park, of which Chauhan is regarded as the chief architect, according to The Indian Express.
Twenty cheetahs were translocated to the park from South Africa and Namibia. In less than four months, eight have died, including those born in India.
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 July 11 and the eighth cheetah Suraj died on July 14.
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The development came a day after Chauhan had told The Indian Express that he was considering removing radio collars from 10 Cheetahs and monitor them for any infections. “The radio collar is not fatal, it can be a contributing factor and must be addressed,” he had said.
Chauhan made the remarks after experts said that the cheetahs could have died due to infection caused by radio collars.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, however, rejected the claims, saying that they were not based on scientific evidence and that “all mortalities are due to natural causes”.
South African cheetah expert Adrian Tordiffe, who was involved in the translocation project, has said that he is “shocked” that Chauhan was removed. “He was an expert and quite a sensible man,” Tordiffe added, reported The Indian Express.
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.