Reports Blaming Radio Collar Use For Cheetah Deaths Speculative: Centre

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Five of the 20 adult cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa died due to natural causes and media reports attributing the deaths to factors like radio collars were based on “speculation and hearsay without scientific evidence”, the environment ministry said today.

The ministry, in a statement, said that several measures have been planned to support the cheetah project, including the establishment of a research center with facilities for the rescue, rehabilitation, capacity building, and interpretation.

“Out of the 20 adult cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa to India, five mortalities of adult cheetahs have been reported. As per the preliminary analysis, all mortalities are due to natural causes. There are reports in the media attributing the cheetah deaths to radio collar etc. Such reports are not based on any scientific evidence but on speculation and hearsay,” the statement said.

The ministry said international cheetah experts and veterinary doctors from South Africa and Namibia are being consulted to probe the cheetah deaths.

The project’s monitoring protocols, protection measures, managerial inputs, veterinary facilities, training, and capacity building aspects are also being reviewed by independent national experts, it said.

It said the Centre’s Cheetah Project Steering Committee is closely monitoring the project’s progress and has expressed satisfaction with its implementation. The government has deployed a dedicated team from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to work closely with field officials.

This team is responsible for analyzing the real-time field data collected by monitoring teams to make informed decisions regarding management, health, and related interventions for the cheetahs, the ministry said.

Male cheetah Suraj, translocated from South Africa, died at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh on Friday, while another translocated male cheetah, Tejas, died on Tuesday.

Some experts on the cheetah project said that some recent deaths could possibly be due to an infection caused by radio collars even though that is highly unusual and collars have been used in wildlife conservation in India for over two decades now.

Other experts, however, said only the post-mortem report will help to determine the exact cause.

Rajesh Gopal, the head of the cheetah project steering committee, said the reason for the cheetahs’ death could be septicemia from the radio collars.

“It is highly unusual. I have also seen it for the first time. It’s a cause for concern and we have directed (the Madhya Pradesh forest staff) to check all the cheetahs,” he said. It is possible that aberrations, humid weather can lead to infection from radio collar use, he added.

“We have been using collars in wildlife conservation for around 25 years in India. I have never come across such an incident. We have good, smart collars available these days. Still if such an incident is happening, we will have to bring it to the notice of manufacturers,” Mr Gopal added.

South African cheetah metapopulation expert Vincent van der Merwe said extreme wet conditions are causing the radio collars to create infection and that possibly is the reason behind the cheetahs’ deaths.

The ministry said the cheetah project is still in progress and it would be “premature to judge its success or failure within a year”.

It said valuable insights have been gained in cheetah management, monitoring, and protection over the last 10 months.

The ministry remains optimistic about the project’s long-term success and urges against speculating at this stage, it said.

As part of new steps being considered to support the project, additional forest areas will be brought under the administrative control of the Kuno National Park for the landscape-level management, it said.

Additional frontline staff will be deployed, and a Cheetah Protection Force will be established, the ministry said, adding a second home for cheetahs is envisioned in Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh.

Under the Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared cheetahs were imported from Namibia and South Africa to the Kuno National Park.

The ministry said that the reintroduction of cheetahs is a significant project that is expected to face challenges. It cited global experience, particularly from South Africa, where initial reintroductions resulted in over 50 percent mortality among introduced cheetahs.

The causes of mortality can include intraspecific fights, diseases, accidents before and after release, injuries during hunting, poaching, road accidents, poisoning, and attacks by other predators.

The action plan for the cheetah project includes provisions for annual supplementation of the initial founder population to manage the demographic and genetic composition of the reintroduced population.

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