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Cheetah is Alien to Rajasthan, says expert

Concern among a section of conservationists over a move to “re-introduce” cheetahs in Rajasthan, India has been echoed by the former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, V.D. Sharma. “The cheetah is alien to Rajasthan, so why introduce it here? They are using the word ‘re-introduction’ but I would insist that this is going to be an introduction of cheetah in Rajasthan as it never existed here in the wild,” said Mr. Sharma, author and specialist on lesser cats, talking to The Hindu newspaper.

“Is there any ecological gap or void which needs to be filled through the introduction of the cheetah here?” he asked. “We are planning to introduce an alien animal spending several hundreds of crores of rupees. The major concern is that introduction of the cheetah is contemplated in basically tiger land. If there is money to spare, it should be for conserving the tiger habitats,” said Mr. Sharma who has had a long association with Rajasthan’s tiger habitats as Chief Wildlife Warden in the past.

Mr. Sharma said Rajasthan has a long documented record of hunting expeditions by the rulers of Jaipur, Bikaner, Dungarpur and others but there is no reference to cheetahs. “There is no record of shooting a cheetah anywhere in Rajasthan. The museums have no stuffed cheetah or preserved skin of this animal kept as trophies,” he added. Former Rajasthan States had cheetahs as captive animals procured from abroad. “It was introduced as a hunting animal. Some of the captive cheetahs might have escaped to the wild and got killed. We don’t hear about any cheetah population,” Mr. Sharma said.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Rajasthan had vast stretches of grass-shrubland with black bucks and chinkaras, ideal for the presence of cheetah. Yet there were none. “It never went extinct here as it never existed,” Mr. Sharma said.

Project will now go to Madhya Pradesh

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said he felt Rajasthan was the best site suited for re-introduction but the government there was not agreeing because of protests by the local people. He said he tried to explain that oil and gas exploration could be done even if the cheetah was introduced there and the area would not be declared a national park or sanctuary. Now Madhya Pradesh is going to be the first option, as the Chief Minister there has given a committment and was very keen on the project, he said.

Source: IUCN/SSC Cat News, Spring 2011

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