Cheetahs set off for India today: Top experts say human-animal conflict is the biggest concern in India

On Friday, five female and three male African cheetahs will begin a 10-hour, more than 8,000 km transcontinental journey to their new home in India. And among those traveling on the Boeing 747 jet, one of the world’s leading experts on cheetahs, Dr Laurie Marker, says managing human-animal conflicts will be India’s biggest challenge.

Aged between two and six years, the cheetahs are currently housed in a “boma”, a small fenced camp, for isolation and treatment at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) center in Otjiwarango, Namibia. Each animal is vaccinated, fitted with a satellite collar and undergoes an extensive health check.

The modified Boeing cargo plane will depart Hosea Kutako International Airport in Namibia’s capital Windhoek and land at Jaipur Airport on the night of September 17.

The animals will then move to their new home in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

It is in Kuno where the real work will begin, Dr Marker, who is also the founder and executive director of CCF, told The Indian Express.

The American expert has been an advisor to the Government of India on cheetah translocation projects for the past 12 years and is in charge of the CCF project on behalf of the Namibian government.

Dr Marker said he first managed a cheetah translocation project from Namibia to South Africa in 2005 – the latter country now has about 1,000 individuals.

“77 percent of Africa’s cheetahs actually live outside protected areas – and the reason they are able to coexist with minimal human-animal conflict is not only because the cheetah is not an aggressive animal, unlike a lion or a tiger, but because of educating farmers about how to deal with cheetahs. Also because of the awareness programs that the government has created. Since cheetahs attack cattle, I would say the biggest threat to cheetahs and conservation projects like reintroduction in India is from farmers trying to protect their cattle. But there are ways to deal with that, which This includes herders, keeping guard dogs and keeping livestock healthy and strong so they are not picked off by cheetahs,” said Dr Marker.

Dr Marker added that keeping a healthy and expanded prey base would also ensure that cheetahs do not attack livestock.

“While we have carried out numerous cheetah recovery projects across Africa since the 1990s, this is the first time such a trans-continental project is being undertaken. And it is crucial to the global conservation of the cheetah, which is critically endangered in many parts. Cheetah has become extinct in many countries due to human activities, so it is our responsibility to bring it back and save it. Of course the ideal situation would be to save the animal as reintroduction is a difficult and long process. But once an animal is extinct, it’s the only way,” said Dr. Marker.

The incoming cheetahs, which include two male siblings, are selected based on an assessment of their health, temperament, hunting skills and ability to contribute genetics that will result in a strong founder population.

The cheetah is the oldest of the big cat species, its ancestors having passed away about 8.5 million years ago. CCF believes the global cheetah population is at just under 7,500 individuals. It is listed as “vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Two subspecies, the Asiatic cheetah and the Northwest African cheetah, are listed as “critically endangered”.

“The cheetah has lost 90% of its global habitat in the last 100 years and now lives in 9 percent of its historic range. Of the 31 cheetah populations, many have only 100-200 animals and their habitats are constantly being fragmented — including areas in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania. The first challenge is to sustain the population for future generations — and that is why the Indian government’s initiative is welcome and visionary,” said Dr. Marker.

Dr Marker said cheetahs are adaptable and will be able to cope with the Indian climate. “In parts of Africa where cheetahs are found, temperatures can vary from very hot during the day to cold at night, and cheetahs can adapt to seasonal changes. They also struggle with extreme rains and wet seasons in Africa, much like India,” he said, adding that Kuno, which he has visited many times, offers the perfect landscape for the animals.

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According to a CCF analysis of recorded cheetah migrations, at least 727 cheetahs were translocated to 64 sites in South Africa between 1965 and 2010. Six of the 64 release sites were considered successful based on natural recruitment (births) three years after the death of adults. start

Dr Marker said: “We certainly cannot control adult mortality in cheetahs. We will try to ensure zero deaths, but there are no guarantees. For India’s project to be successful, we have to wait and see for 5-10 years to see the impact of translocation.”

The animal repatriation aircraft is sourced by Action Aviation which normally transports animals. Carrying the image of a tiger on the nose, it was acquired from the UAE-based airline Aquiline International Corporation.

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