Should cheetahs be reintroduced in India?

August 3rd, 2009 | by Nick |

Interesting article today in the The Times of India as to whether cheetah should be reintroduced there.

It says the idea¬† “should have had every wildlife lover leaping with joy…but marring this picture-perfect sight is the country’s poor record of big cat conservation.” Tigers are down to 1,400from 40,000 in 1900 and some experts believe the plan is a waste of resources. “”The meagre resources available should be spent on the protection of severely threatened wildlife,” says Ranjit Talwar, formerly with the tiger conservation cell of the World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF-India).”

But there are other reason behind the reintroduction ” M K Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, says “Conservation of grasslands, the cheetah’s habitat, is the main objective behind reintroducing the cat…Grasslands have been over-exploited in India, either for agriculture or grazing, resulting in severe degradation,…This would also help in the conservation of other endangered grassland fauna like the Great Indian Bustard.”

The cheetah is believed to have been extinct in India since the late 1940s

The plan would probably involve bringing cheetah from Africa rather than Iran the only country where the Asiatic cheetah still survives in the wild. Extinct in India, Cheetah may be imported (Times of India)

Wikipedia The Asiatic Cheetah (“cheetah” from Hindi ???? c?t?, from Sanskrit word chitraka meaning “speckled”) (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) is now also known as the Iranian Cheetah, as the world’s last few are known to survive mostly in Iran. Although recently presumed to be extinct in India, it is also known as the Indian Cheetah. During British colonial times in India it was famous by the name of Hunting-Leopard, a name derived from the ones that were kept in captivity in large numbers by the Indian royalty to hunt wild antelopes with.

Hunting with cheetahs enjoyed a long tradition in India as this Mughal painting demontrates (bigger version here)

Akbar, Mughal emperor of India hunting with locally trapped Asiatic Cheetahs, c. 1602. He was said to have had 1,000 cheetahs at one time for assisting in his royal hunts. Trapping of large numbers of adult Indian cheetahs, who had already learned hunting skills from wild mothers, for assisting in royal hunts is said to be another major cause of the species rapid decline in India as they never bred in captivity with only one record of a litter ever. Wikipedia

Books about the history of cheetahs in India

There are a couple of fascainating books on Indian cheetahs and their history:

The Cheetah in India

This book presents a pictorial history of the cheetah in India from the pre-historic period to the present. It provides a comprehensive account of the cheetah in captivity and its use by Indian royalty as an aid to hunting. Divyabhanusinh examines anew the process of the Indian cheetah’s decline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, charting its path to extinction and analysing the causes of its disappearance. The epilogue provides a complete update, including detailed findings on the evolution of cheetahs from Africa and Asia. It also gives fresh evidence about the sadly declining numbers of cheetahs in Iran, and their existence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The author mines a wide range of sources–from prehistoric cave paintings, Sanskrit, classical Greek and Roman literature to Mughal miniature paintings, rare photographs, and interviews. This third edition contains an updated preface on the current scenario for cheetahs in Asia. More here
This is a study of the cheetah, now extinct in India, through the ages of Indian history. The product of a decade of extensive research, this is the only work which traces the history and ecology of an animal species from the pre-historic period to recent times. Using a range of sources, from prehistoric cave paintings to oral testimony, it provides a comprehensive account of the animal’s interaction with man through the ages, charting its path to extinction and exploring the possibility of its reintroduction in India.
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