The dark clouds over India’s cheetah project


Ten months ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, on his birthday, to formally launch India’s cheetah relocation project. Standing on a platform, Modi rotated a lever to open gates to release the first of the cheetahs that had been flown in from Africa.

The relocation had been carried out despite stiff opposition from scientists, who argued that the plans were flawed, and that the project was bound to run into problems.

Since then, four adult cheetahs and three cubs have died of various causes. Two other cheetahs left the park territory, and had to be tranquilised and brought back. Two others suffered serious injuries after territorial fights with another two. Meanwhile, overworked ground staff struggle to manage the project’s logistics even as it faces intense global scrutiny.

Vaishnavi Rathore visited Kuno, and spoke to forest officials and ground staff, as well as scientists and other experts, to understand how the project is faring. “From the candid conversations I had with the members of the forest department, I learnt about on-ground micro-level management, coordination and other efforts that are ongoing for the project,” Rathore said. “This opened up a different world for me, where the staff knew cheetahs by their first names and seemed to have learnt their unique characteristics and personalities.”

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Ajay Krishnan
Senior Editor

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