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The cheetah scenario

In 1952 - five years after the last three wild cheetahs fell to hunting - cheetahs were declared extinct in the country. Since then, there have been several calls to re-introduce the carnivore. After decades, finally a solid plan for it took shape in 2009. The Asiatic cheetah is found in the wild today only in Iran, which refused to entertain such a relocation. So, the plan turned its focus to Africa. While in 2013 the Supreme Court rejected the idea to introduce what is essentially an alien species (the African cheetah), last year it gave its nod for the move. Among the areas identified for the Rs. 14-crore “Project Cheetah” is the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. It was recently announced that the transportation of the big cats to the Park is likely to happen around this November.

• The effort to re-introduce the cheetah, albeit the African species, is the first for an extinct mammal in the country. However, within the country, rhinoceros have been introduced in other areas - to both happy and sad results. Launched in 2005, the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 came about to address the issue of declining rhino population in the country. Back then, a large portion of the animals dominated Assam’s Kaziranga National Park. So, over 10 years, a few rhinos were moved to Manas National Park in the State. The animals managed to thrive. Some of the females even gave birth twice, increasing the total number of animals from zero in 2005 to 32 in 2015. Sadly, poachers thrived too - in just five years, 10 rhinos were killed, causing a setback to the project.

• Similarly, the relocation and introduction of another big cat - the tiger - too have been the focus for a while now. The Project Tiger Relocation was launched in 2018, and a male from Kanha Tiger Reserve and a female from Bandhavgarh from Madhya Pradesh were relocated to Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha. While the male was found dead within months, the female mauled a villager, and was shifted to an enclosure, effectively affecting the initiative.

• Meanwhile, discussions have been going on for years about introducing the Asiatic lion - found in the wild today only in Gujarat’s Gir forest - to other areas. The talks have intensified since 2018 when several lions in Gir lost their lives due to in-fighting and virus infection.

• Usually, it is threatened or endangered species (and, occasionally those extinct in the wild too) that are re-introduced in a region. This helps bring about a healthy, diverse, and thriving population over the years, giving hope to the species.

• When a species is re-introduced, it may help improve its habitats or even an ecosystem. This becomes especially relevant when it is an apex predator at the top of a food chain containing herbivores and the vegetation these herbivores are dependent on.

• Rare and endangered species have the potential to improve tourism by bringing in more discerning visitors. This also means more awareness among adults and children about the need to conserve wildlife and their habitats.

• Globally, and especially in India, many wildlife species are in dire straits due to several reasons, including climate change, human activity, infrastructure development, etc. In such a scenario, it is prudent to channel humanpower and funds to conserve threatened species rather than to the re-introduction of species.

• There have been instances that suggest enough sensitivity, research, and planning have not gone into introduction plans, resulting in precious loss of animal lives. As for the cheetah re-introduction, many conservationists have raised concerns over the lack of prey base and adequate space for a carnivore that thrives in grasslands.

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