India: View: Welcoming the cheetah to India
The loss of Indian cheetahs is attributed to a myriad of reasons, including large-scale capture of animals for racing, bounty and sport hunting, extensive habitat conversion, and shrinkage resulting from the prey base.
All these factors induced by human action symbolize only one thing: a pure and simple domination of the natural world by man. Reintroducing the cheetah to the wild is therefore a step towards righting an ecological wrong and fulfilling our commitment to Mission LiFE, a mantra given to the world by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mission LiFE aims to build a truly inclusive world, where human greed does not outweigh the need for survival of our flora and fauna, and where humans exist in harmony with nature, including animals.
The Western growth model has led to the creation of an impression that the human is supreme, and powered by technology, this “supreme human” can achieve whatever it sets out to claim as its own. When this model was put into practice, humans lost, and lost even though they temporarily gained a sense of thriving. This pattern has not only endangered several species, but the very existence of planet Earth. In India, for ages, we have believed that “nature protects if it is protected”. India has lost only one large wild mammal since our independence.
We have been able to preserve several key species and their ecosystems, including tigers, lions, Asian elephants, gharials and one-horned rhinoceros, despite our growing population and development needs. With Project Tiger, Project Lion and Project Elephant, India has in recent years also been able to increase the populations of these critically important species.
While the tiger has served as the flagship and umbrella species of forest systems, the cheetah will fill the gap for open forests, savanna and grasslands. The reintroduction of the cheetah is an ambitious step towards building a sustainable planet, as the reintroduction of a top predator restores the historic evolutionary balance, helping to trigger a cascading impact on their habitat restoration and conservation. from the prey base. The cheetah was the force of evolutionary natural selection that led to the high-speed adaptation of species such as antelopes and gazelles. The return of the cheetah will ensure the protection of its prey base which includes endangered species and the open forest ecosystem, which also in some parts is on the brink of extinction.
The Cheetah Project will provide resources to restore neglected habitats which, in turn, will conserve their biodiversity, harness their ecosystem services and their ability to sequester carbon to their maximum potential. Local communities also have a lot to gain, as ecotourism generated by curiosity and interest in the cheetah will boost their livelihoods and help improve their living conditions.
Today’s world has become aware of the need to preserve large carnivores and their ecosystems. Reintroduction and conservation/translocation are used worldwide to halt or reverse the increasing decline in the numbers of large carnivores. As India strives wholeheartedly to deliver on its promise to build a sustainable future as stewards of the planet for its future generations, it has also chosen to reintroduce the cheetah to reverse the decline of its ecosystem with the return cheetah as the main predator.
While reintroduction is happening in Kuno, after a viable cheetah population has been established, the cheetah could be considered for reintroduction in other states including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This would help in the complete restoration of the lost heritage of India in addition to the restoration of other forms of wildlife and the related ecosystem.
(Note: the author is the Union Cabinet Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change; and Labor and Employment)