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In September 2022, the world’s first intercontinental cheetah introduction program made headlines when the first African cheetah was released into Kuno National Park in India. This ambitious conservation initiative, aptly named Project Cheetah, aimed to reestablish the vulnerable cheetah population in a region where it once thrived.
Backed by a 500-million-rupee ($6 million) budget and the Support of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the project’s initial wave of optimism dimmed recently with the death of three relocated cheetahs and their cubs within eight months of their introduction. These unfortunate incidents have raised questions about the project’s long-term viability and the wisdom of its execution.
Experts are concerned about whether the allocated space is sufficient for the projected cheetah population and whether adequate research was conducted to predict reactions from local farming communities. The high stress of relocation and violent mating encounters contributed to the death of the adult cheetahs, while malnutrition and weakness claimed the cubs’ lives.
With only 6,517 cheetahs remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Project Cheetah’s goal to conserve this magnificent species is noble and much needed. However, critics question whether the project was hastily implemented, given the fast-paced nine-month period between the action plan release and the animals’ relocation to India.
Debate also swirls around Kuno National Park’s capacity to accommodate the big cats. Cheetahs require vast territories, and some scientists believe that the park can house at most eight cheetahs — a far cry from Project Cheetah’s estimation of 21.
Other concerns revolve around the cheetahs’ potential interaction with local farming communities, given their natural inclination to explore their new environment. To address this, the Project Cheetah action plan includes provisions for remote sensing and a community stewardship program that rewards villagers for protecting the cheetahs.
Despite the recent setbacks, Project Cheetah‘s proponents remain hopeful. As they press forward, the success of this groundbreaking endeavor hinges largely on the acceptance and cooperation of the local communities sharing their environment with these new, formidable neighbors.
The story of Project Cheetah is a potent reminder that successful Conservation efforts need to blend scientific expertise, sound planning, and local community involvement. The world watches as this project unfolds, bringing attention to the urgent need to conserve our planet’s vulnerable species.
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