Experts eye African cheetahs for reintroduction, to submit plan

September 11th, 2009 - 11:42 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 11 (IANS) Cheetah experts who gathered in Gajner in Rajasthan to discuss plans to reintroduce the animal in India have endorsed a proposal to bring cheetahs from Africa, six decades after they became extinct in the country.
There is no significant difference between the African and Asiatic cheetah and the animal can be reintroduced in India if habitat, adequate prey base and security are provided, said Stephen J. O’Brien, world’s leading conservation geneticist.

The African and Indian cheetahs were separated some 5,000 years ago and that is “not enough for a subspecies level differentiation”, he maintained, stressing that “your decisions should not be based on the genetic arguments” alone.

In comparison, the lion subspecies were separated some 100,000 years ago, so was the African and Asian leopard subspecies 169,000 years ago.

Cheetah expert Laurie Marker said: “Cheetahs have gone extinct from 15 countries in the last 60 years. Iran has less than 100 cheetahs. For reintroduction purposes, I will not recommend taking any individuals from Iran.”

The conference was organised by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), an NGO, to work out a roadmap to reintroduce the animal in India.

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, who inaugurated the conference said: “I feel that we owe it to the animal whose very name is derived from Sanskrit.

“And that was once so ubiquitous in our country to at least analyse the pros and cons, examine the advantages and risks in a dispassionate and professional manner drawing on the best international expertise on the subject.

“Personally, I feel that we would be reclaiming a part of our wonderful and varied ecological history if the cheetah was to be reintroduced in the wild but I will be guided by the consensus amongst the experts on this matter.”

The conference deliberated on a range of issues such as habitat, prey availability, man-animal conflict, management and sourcing of stock population, among others, WTI said in a statement after the meeting held near Rajasthan’s Bikaner city, some 450 km for Delhi.

The chief wildlife wardens of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, officials of the environment ministry, cheetah experts from across the globe, including representatives from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), and IUCN, an international conservation NGO, among others, participated.

Yadvendradev Jhala of the WII presented a study on the potential cheetah reintroduction sites in India. However, site-specific study in greater detail would be necessary before a final selection can be recommended.

Meanwhile, WTI and WII will jointly develop a reintroduction plan, which will be submitted to the government.

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