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After death of 3 cheetahs at Kuno National Park, SC asks Centre to consider shifting them to Rajasthan

The Supreme Court asked the Centre to rise above politics and consider shifting the big cats to Rajasthan.

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal New Delhi Updated on: May 19, 2023 10:15 IST
SC suggests Centre to move cheetahs to Rajasthan
Image Source : AP SC suggests Centre to move cheetahs to Rajasthan

New Delhi: Expressing serious concern over the recent deaths of three cheetahs at Kuno National Park (KNP) of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Thursday (May 18) asked the Centre to rise above politics and consider shifting the big cats to Rajasthan. A bench of justices BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol noted that the deaths had occurred within two months of their translocation from South Africa and Namibia to Kuno National Park. 

‘KNP seem to be sufficient for such a large number of cheetahs’

The apex court told the Centre that from reports of experts and articles, it appears that KNP does not seem to be sufficient for such a large number of cheetahs and the Union government may consider shifting them to other sanctuaries.

“Three deaths (of cheetahs) in less than two months is a matter of serious concern. There are opinions of experts and articles in the media. It appears that Kuno is not sufficient for so many cheetahs. There is too much concentration of cheetahs at one place. Why don't you look for a suitable place in Rajasthan? Merely because Rajasthan is ruled by an opposition party does not mean, you will not consider it," the bench said. 

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre assured the Court that the Task Force constituted for this purpose is investigating all possible aspects including shifting them to other sanctuaries. 

3 cheetahs died at KNP

On March 27, a female Cheetah named Sasha (from Namibia) died due to kidney ailment, on April 23, Uday (S Africa) died due to cardio-pulmonary failure and on May 9, another South African female cheetah named Daksha, died following a violent interaction with a male during a mating attempt.

"We came to know that the cheetah which died due to kidney-related ailment was suffering from the problem before being brought to India. The question is how was that female cheetah cleared to be brought to India if the feline was suffering from the ailment," the bench said. 

Bhati said autopsies of all the deaths were done and task force is investigating the issue. "You are bringing the cheetahs from abroad, it's a good thing. But they need to be protected. They need to be given suitable habitat, why don't you explore for more suitable habitat than Kuno", the bench said, adding that it is not casting any aspersions on the government but expressing concern over the deaths. 

Bhati said one cheetah has given birth to four cubs which shows that they are acclimatising well in Kuno. He said death of cheetahs is not an unusual thing but they are thoroughly investigating and if the court wishes, the government would like to file an additional affidavit giving the details of the deaths.

Justice Gavai told Bhati, "Don't bring party-politics into this issue. Consider all the available habitats, whatever is suitable for them. I will be glad if cheetahs are brought to Maharashtra."  Bhati said Mukundara National Park is ready and the task force is also considering transferring some of them to other national parks in Madhya Pradesh.

"There are no cheetah experts in India as cheetahs went extinct from the country in 1947-48. Since then our officials have been to South Africa, Namibia and undergone specialized training on Cheetah management", Bhati said, adding if the court is considering hearing views of cheetah experts, then it should hear all of them and not one or two, who have particular kind of opinions.

SC asks expert committee to give its suggestion task force on cheetah

The bench then asked the top court-constituted expert committee to give its suggestion to the national task force on cheetah in 15 days, so that it could be considered. It posted the matter for further hearing after summer vacation.

The top court's direction came while hearing an application filed by the Centre seeking direction from the court that it is no longer necessary and mandatory for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to continue taking the guidance and advice of the expert committee appointed by this court through an order dated January 28, 2020.

The top court had then said that the three-member committee comprising former director of wildlife protection M K Ranjit Sinh, chief conservator of forests, wildlife administration in Uttarakhand Dhananjai Mohan and the DIG (Wildlife) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) will guide the NTCA in the introduction of African cheetahs in India.

12 cheetahs translocated from South Africa to KNP

The Centre, in its application said that according to the action plan for cheetah introduction in India, annually 8-14 big cats are required to be brought in from African countries for the next five years at least and a memorandum of understanding in this regard has been signed by the government of India with Namibia and South Africa for cooperation in the field of cheetah conservation.

Giving the details, the Centre said that following the signing of the MOU, "in a historic wild to wild intercontinental translocation of a large carnivore, eight cheetahs were transported from Namibia to India on September 17, 2022, and were released into the quarantine enclosures in Kuno National Park of Madhya Pradesh".

The government said that as per MoU with South Africa, 12 cheetahs -- seven males and five females -- were translocated from South Africa to KNP on February 18, 2023.

It said that this entire exercise of cheetah introduction in India has been carried out under the expert guidance and supervision of the International cheetah experts, scientists, veterinarians, forest officials and NTCA in consultations with the committee appointed by this court vide order dated January 28, 2020. 

5 cheetahs to be released in Kuno before monsoon

Notably, five cheetahs — three females and two males — will be released from the acclimatisation camps into free-ranging conditions in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park (KNP) before the onset of the monsoon in June.

Animals are generally not released into the wild during the monsoon season as harsh weather conditions make it difficult for them to find food and shelter and adapt to their new environment.

The Union Environment Ministry said the cheetahs will be allowed to move out of KNP and will not necessarily be “recaptured unless they venture into areas where they are in significant danger”.

(With PTI inputs)

Also Read: Good news! Cheetah brought from Namibia gives birth to 4 cubs at Kuno National Park

Also Read: 5 more cheetahs to be released into wild in MP's Kuno before monsoon


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