Report Himalayas, 18 Sept 2022
In a short interview with the Report Himalayas, Ullas Karanth, the Emeritus Director of the Centre for Wildlife Studies in southern Karnataka state, says that the Kuno project is likely to fail because of the naturally low densities at which Cheetahs live.
Here are the excerpts.
On Cheetah re-introduction project
“The project has a noble goal of restoring wild cheetahs, their wild prey species, and entire habitat at a large landscape level. I am fully supportive of that. That means establishing a large and viable, self-sustaining population of 100 or more wild Cheetahs eventually. That goal, most emphatically, should not get perverted to end up as a managed population of captive Cheetahs held within fenced areas, and sustained artificially through repeated reintroductions of new Cheetahs and prey ending up as a kind of large safari park finally. We already have caged and fenced Cheetahs in many zoos and safari parks in India, so what is new?”
On the fears and success or failure of the project
“Despite all the huge expenditure and full-throated support from Shri. Jairam Ramesh who proposed it in 2012 and Shri. Narendra Modi who has begun its implementation on ground, I am worried this project will not meet the stated goal of true Cheetah restoration that I have explained above. It is likely to fail and may end up as tourist Disneyland for cheetahs with little more than PR value. There has even been a suggestion to introduce Giraffes into Kuno! I hope there will be a serious, independent scientific review of this present project after a year.
“This failure of the Kuno project will occur because of the naturally low densities at which Cheetahs live, less than 1 cheetah per 100 square kilometers (it is 10-15 for leopards) and their low survival rates-only 5% of all cheetahs born grow up to adult reproduction stage in best of habitats. There will be high mortality once the Cheetahs are released from the fenced areas because of dominant predators like leopards, domestic dogs, human-cheetah conflicts etc. Kuno and surroundings simply cannot sustain a viable self-sustaining population of Cheetahs, although they could potentially support a viable population of Asian lions from Gir as was originally planned and much effort was expended towards that goal”.
Contrary to the fears and worries of Karanth, officials from the Namibia-based Charity Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) which has been central to India’s Cheetah project are confident that the ambitious project would be successful. “Cheetahs are very adaptable and (I’m) assuming that they will adapt well into this environment,” Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder of the CCF told AFP. “I don’t have a lot of worries”: