A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
Cheetah Reintroduction or Sacrifice?
August 18, 2010Posted by on
The government of India, or at least the Minister of Environment, has recently announced plans to bring 18 cheetahs from Africa to reintroduce this big cat to its former range. While the geographic range of the Asiatic cheetah did span across these areas of India in the past, trophy hunters and poachers drove the felines to extinction there 60 years ago.
The official line is that bringing the cheetah back would restore the grasslands that, for years, have been cut down by villagers who use the grass to feed livestock. Over time, the cheetahs’ presence is supposed to stabilize other endangered species populations living in the disturbed grasslands.
Small, poverty-stricken villages of cattle farmers and shepherds currently live in the three proposed areas, and would be forced to leave their homes and relocate to other parts of the country. The government says they plan to spend $6 million relocating the people and preparing the proposed cheetah habitat areas.
As reintroduction proposals go, this is the most ludicrous suggestion I’ve ever come across.
India has traditionally had the world’s largest tiger population. Asian demand for tiger parts has fueled rampant tiger poaching that has caused a decline in the Bengal tiger population. In only the last seven years, the tigers have decreased by 60%, leaving India with only about 1,400 today.
Despite extensive conservation campaigns and numerous efforts to save India’s tigers, they continue to disappear. Poachers are largely to blame, but many tigers are also killed in retaliation when they kill humans and livestock. Predators all over the world fall victim to retaliatory killing when livestock predation occurs, and cheetahs are no exception.
In India and Nepal, the general public’s attitude regarding animals revolves around the idea that if people can barely survive there, why should animals be given a chance? When people are told to leave their homes because cheetahs are being reintroduced into the area, it will undoubtedly fuel more hatred for the animals.
As has been proven many times, the only way for any reintroduction program to succeed is to educate the locals and inspire them to want to protect the animals and their habitat.
There is also concern about introducing an African-adapted species that will have been bred in captivity. What are the chances these cats will know how to survive in the wild?
There are not enough African cheetahs left to play around with their future. Their population is on a rapid decline, and putting 18 of these endangered cats into the Indian grasslands is the same as lining them up on the highway. Their chances of survival would be about the same.
The Bushwarriors blog recently launched a poll titled “Should Cheetahs Be Reintroduced to India?” Fifty-five percent of respondents said no, while 39% felt it was a good idea. Five percent fell into the Other category, and one of those comments neatly sums up the entire issue:
“One’s house should be in order before one orders more furniture.”