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Cheetah to make comeback to India's grasslands

September 21, 2009 11:06 IST

Reports indicate that India is planning a serious initiative to bring the cheetah back to India and make it the 'flagship species' of the country's grasslands, which do not have a single prominent animal now.

Studies show that over 200 cheetahs were killed in India during the colonial period mainly due to conflicts with sheep and goat herders, and not because they were gunned down by trophy hunters.

Research showed that were at least 230 cheetahs in India between 1799 and 1968 -- and the cat was reportedly sighted for the last time in the country in 1967-68.

According to a report by BBC News, a recent meeting of wildlife officials, cheetah experts and conservationists from all over the world discussed the 'reintroduction' of the spotted cat and agreed that the case for its return was strong.

Seven sites -- national parks, sanctuaries and other open areas -- in the four states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh have been short listed as potential homes for the cheetah.

These sites will now be surveyed extensively to find out the state of the habitat, the number of prey and prospects of man-animal conflict to finally determine whether they can accommodate the cheetah.

If one or more sites are found to have favourable habitat and prey for the cheetah, India will then possibly have to import the cat from Africa, because the numbers of the Asiatic cheetah, which are available only in Iran, have dwindled to fewer than 100.

Genetic scientists like the US-based Stephen O' Brien say that the genetic similarities between the Iranian and African cheetah is 'very close', so there should be no problems bringing the latter to India.

Most of the experts agreed that wild cheetahs or the progeny of wild cheetahs in captivity should be brought to India, quarantined for a while, and released in the selected habitats.

According to Dr Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, reintroducing the cheetah "will not be easy -- but it is doable".

'We have the techniques and knowledge to do it. The cheetah living in India again might be a good thing. Its extinction is fairly recent and it is a top predator which could help by becoming an icon, help bring back the health of grassland ecosystems,' she said.

Source: ANI