There Are Better Ways Than Cheetahs To Revive Ecosystems : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 20/09/2022

Relevance: GS-3: Environment and conservation-related issues.

Key Phrases: Action Plan For Introduction Of Cheetah In India, Functional Role As A Top Predator, National Wildlife Action Plan, African Cheetah, Kuno Palpur Sanctuary

Why in News?

  • As per the scientists, the recent trans-continental transport and introduction of the African cheetahs from Namibia to India has not been done with an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of various aspects of this project.

Key Highlights:

  • The project has been implemented based on the Action Plan for the Introduction of Cheetah in India.
  • The plan aims for the protection and conservation of seven major big cats including the Cheetah.
  • As part of the project, 50 cheetahs will be introduced in various National Parks over 5 years.
  • Cheetah is the only large carnivore that got completely wiped out from India, mainly due to overhunting and habitat loss.
  • The cheetah will be used as an umbrella species for conserving the biodiversity of grasslands, savanna, and open forest systems that have seen a more drastic decline as these sites suffered the most qualitative and quantitative decimation.

About Asiatic lion/Cheetah:

  • Cheetahs live in open plains, their habitat is predominantly where their preys live - grasslands, scrubs and open forest systems, semi-arid environments, and temperatures that tend to be hotter compared to cooler regimes.
  • In saving cheetahs, not only its prey-base comprising certain threatened species is to be saved but also other endangered species of the grasslands and open forest ecosystems, some of which are on the brink of extinction.
  • It is also observed that among large carnivores, conflict with human interests is lowest for Cheetahs.
  • They are not a threat to humans and do not attack large livestock either.

Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India

  • The plan aims to establish a viable cheetah meta population in India that allows the cheetah to perform its functional role as a top predator and provide space for the expansion of the cheetah within its historical range thereby contributing to its global conservation efforts.

Objectives of the project are:

  • To establish breeding cheetah populations in safe habitats across its historical range and manage them as a metapopulation.
  • To use the cheetah as a charismatic flagship and umbrella species to garner resources for restoring open forest and savanna systems that will benefit biodiversity and ecosystem services from these ecosystems.
  • To enhance India’s capacity to sequester carbon through ecosystem restoration activities in cheetah conservation areas and thereby contribute toward the global climate change mitigation goals.
  • To use the ensuing opportunity for eco-development and eco-tourism to enhance local community livelihoods.
  • To manage any conflict by cheetah or other wildlife with local communities within cheetah conservation areas expediently through compensation, awareness, and management actions to win community support.

Why Kuno Palpur National Park has been chosen for the translocation?

  • Kuno Palpur National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh has been chosen because of its suitable habitat and adequate prey base.
  • KNP is 748 sq. km. in area, devoid of human settlements which forms part of the Sheopur-Shivpuri deciduous open forest landscape and is estimated to have a capacity to sustain 21 cheetahs.
  • Kuno is probably the only wildlife site in the country where there has been a complete relocation of villages from inside the park.
  • Kuno also offers the prospect of housing four big cats of India - tiger, lion, leopard, and cheetah – and allowing them to coexist as in the past.

Why the cheetahs from Africa will not help in restoring our grassland ecosystem:

  1. Lack of suitable habitat for cheetahs:
    • Free-ranging cheetahs are characterised by disproportionately large home ranges and very low population densities.
    • However, the area in Kuno National Park is only 748 sq km in extent which can at best accommodate only about 10 adult cheetahs.
    • Thus, it is difficult for a self-sustaining, wild, and free-ranging population of cheetahs to establish itself in India when there is no suitable habitat of sufficient size for them.
  2. Functioning at a limited scale of cheetah population:
    • The establishment of a population of cheetahs is expected in Kuno after about 15 years which is the predicted best-case scenario based on the release of at least 50 cheetahs in the next five to 10 years from Africa.
    • At the predicted low numbers and as a result functioning at an extremely limited scale, it is very unlikely that the introduced cheetahs will be able to effectively play the expected role of a top predator to impact the ecosystem function.
  3. Unrealistic claims:
    • The project makes unrealistic claims about its conservation value, for cheetahs, grasslands, and other open forest ecosystems in India and also for other endangered species like the Great Indian Bustard.

What are the various concerns being raised against the project?

  1. Distraction from priority conservation initiatives:
    • The project will divert much-needed attention and resources from priority conservation initiatives that are part of India’s National Wildlife Action Plan (2017-2031) which places priority on the Great Indian Bustard, caracal, and Asiatic lion, etc.
  2. No focus on the protection of grasslands:
    • Considering the aim of grassland restoration with the introduction of the cheetahs and with current translocation being planned at a single site and that too after 15 years, no focus will be given on conserving the grasslands across India.
  3. Delay in the translocation of lions:
    • It will further delay the translocation of lions as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2013 and thus, challenging the rule of law.
  4. Flawed perception about forest conservation:
    • 80 percent of India’s protected area network now consists of forests though the area under open forests or grassland is almost as big as the forests and equally crucial for animals, birds, and reptiles to survive.
    • As a result, just about 5 percent of India’s grasslands and open forests are protected.
    • The ecosystems vital for the survival of critically endangered species like the great Indian bustard, lesser florican and Indian wolf do not enjoy such legal protection.
    • Populations of these species are in steady and steep decline.

What is the alternative plan being suggested by the scientists?

  • Conservation plan for existing grasslands:
    • The government needs to come out with a conservation plan for the existing grasslands as the cheetah introduction is not only a species recovery program but also an effort to restore ecosystems.
  • Aligning species-centric and habitat-centric approaches:
    • India’s wildlife conservation has worked well when its species-centric and habitat-centric approaches aligned with each other.
    • For example, Project Tiger where protection of the tiger as an umbrella species protects its habitat (forest) and the prey base.
  •  Zonation of biogeographic zones:
    • The government should create different biogeographic zones and plan conservation accordingly. Such a zonation will act as the foundation for setting up a network of protected areas.
    •  Since India harbours diverse ecosystems, each one should have been represented adequately in the protected area network.
  • The Government should delete the status of grasslands and open forest ecosystems as a category from the Wasteland Atlas of India for their conservation.


  • This approach followed by the government will have major negative implications for conservation as an inclusive and participatory enterprise in India.
  • It disregards our national conservation priorities and the rule of law as well as making exaggerated and unfeasible conservation claims as it significantly distracts attention and resources from higher priority conservation issues like the conservation of the critically endangered great Indian bustard and the much-delayed lion translocation -- both of which have been directed by the SC

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. The recent trans-continental transport and introduction of the African cheetahs from Namibia to India significantly distracts attention and resources from higher priority conservation issues. Critically Examine. (150 words).