SP Yadav, the head of Project Cheetah, on Thursday rejected speculations that the deaths of the felines at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh could be lined to infection from radio collars, reported ANI.

Since March, nine cheetahs have died, including three cubs born in India, after 20 cheetahs were translocated 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.

Rajesh Gopal, the head of the cheetah monitoring committee set up by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, had said the reason for the deaths could be septicemia from radio collar. Gopal said it was possible that aberrations and humid weather could have lead to the infection.

Vincent van der Merwe, a South Africa expert on cheetah metapopulation, had also suggested that septicemia could be the possible reason for the deaths of two cheetahs in July.

However, on Friday, Yadav told ANI that carnivores and animals are monitored all over the world by radio collars and this is a proven technology.

“There is no truth that any cheetah died due to radio collars,” he told the news agency. “I want to say that monitoring is not possible in the wild without radio collars. A total of 20 cheetahs were brought from Namibia and South Africa out of which 14 [adults] are completely healthy and are doing well.”

He added that four cheetahs were born in India and one of them is now six months old and is doing fine. “The three cubs died because of climatic factors,” Yadav said.

Yadav also said that there has never been an attempt to move a cheetah from one continent to another and India’s project was the first wild-to-wild translocation that comes with a lot of challenges.

“Usually, in such long-distance translocation, a cheetah may die because it is a sensitive animal but no such death occurred here and the translocation was very seamless,” he added.

However, Yadav’s comments contradicts the opinion of cheetah experts from South Africa and Namibia who had told the Supreme Court in July that the deaths of some of the felines in Kuno National Park could have been prevented by better monitoring and timely veterinary care.

A report by The Indian Express in July had said that severe infection was detected in two cheetahs – Gaurav and Shaurya – after their radio collars were removed in Kuno National Park. The radio collars of the other four cheetahs were also removed by veterinarians and wildlife experts from Namibia and South Africa.

Former Madhya Pradesh’s chief wildlife warden JS Chauhan had said that he was considering removing radio collars from 10 cheetahs and monitor them for any infections. He was removed from his position the next day.

Also read: The dark clouds over India’s cheetah project