Another cheetah died at the National Kuno Park in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday, making it the ninth casualty since March, reported The Hindu.
The body of female cheetah Dhatri was sent for post-mortem after she was found dead on Wednesday morning. She was among the 20 cheetahs that had been translocated from South Africa and Namibia last year.
In a span of less than five months, nine cheetahs have died, including three cubs born in India.
Dhatri died shortly after The Indian Express reported that cheetah experts from South Africa and Namibia had told the Supreme Court that the deaths of some of the felines in Kuno National Park could have been prevented by better monitoring and timely veterinary care.
In letters to the Supreme Court, the experts have raised concerns about the management of the translocation project. The experts said that they had been “ignored” and only used as “window dressing”, according to the newspaper.
The experts are part of the steering committee that translocated 20 cheetahs to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh from South Africa and Namibia last year.
Wildlife experts have said that some of the cheetahs could have died due to infection caused by radio collars put around their necks.
The first letter to the Supreme Court was written on July 15 by South African veterinary wildlife specialist Dr Adrian Tordiffe, on behalf of his colleagues, cheetah specialist Vincent van der Merwe and wildlife veterinarians Dr Andy Fraser and Dr Mike Toft, reported The Indian Express.
Around the same time, Namibia’s Cheetah Conservation Fund Executive Director Dr Laurie Marker wrote another letter to the Supreme Court, raising smilar concerns as Tordiffe.
Tordiffe’s letter stated that the cheetah project’s management team in India has “little or no scientific training” and that inputs from South Africa were being ignored. The letter also raised concerns about how the experts had to “had to beg for information”, reported the newspaper.
“Very little information has been forthcoming from Kuno regarding the cheetahs and their care,” the letter said. “Although we are listed on the Cheetah Project Steering Committee as international experts, we have never been consulted by them or invited to any of their meetings.”
Also read: The dark clouds over India’s cheetah project
The experts said that the field team at the Kuno National Park had incorrectly assumed that male cheetah, Tejas, died after being injured by a female cheetah. They described the scenario as “extremely unlikely”.
“The staff at Kuno left the injured male, deciding rather to locate the female to check if she was also injured,” they said, according to The Indian Express. “During that time the condition of the male deteriorated, and he died at around 2 pm without having received any treatment.”
The experts added that they came to know about Tejas’ death a day later when a summary and some photos of the postmortem were shared. “No comment was made about the inflammation of the skin over the neck or the very large number of maggots that were clearly visible in the photo,” they said.
The experts said that they could have minimised the risk to other cheethas if they had a description of the wound suffered by Tejas, according to the newspaper. “Instead, we were largely excluded from the process and had to beg for information to understand what had taken place,” they added.
They asked the Supreme Court to allow them to have reports on clinical findings about the cheetahs on a real-time basis “so that a collective decision can be made on how to treat each animal.”
Meanwhile, Marker told The Indian Express that in her letter to the Supreme Court, she has urged for directions to officials of the Kuno National Park to ensure better communications with experts, closer monitoring of the animals and sharing of reports.
The cheetahs had been 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.