It’s the survival of the fittest for the Indian wildlife

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From cheetahs to pangolins: It’s survival of the fittest for Indian wildlife

The cheetahs are back in India. It has been over 70 long years since the last of the Asiatic cheetahs were hunted down in India by the royals and the affluent. To wipe a species out completely – it’s not a child’s play. Real effort was given, and obviously not in a good way. It took real men and women some great “courage” to fell the “beast”. The pride that they must have felt!

Anyway, fast forward 70-plus years, eight cousins of the Asiatic cheetah, all the way from Namibia, were brought to India on September 17, 2022.


Project Cheetah is an ambitious project by the Government of India to re-establish the species in its erstwhile natural range in India. Project Cheetah is also the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.

After a long 10-hour flight from Windhoek in Namibia to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, and then finally to Palpur-Kuno National Park, the eight young cheetahs were finally released into a quarantined enclosure in the park where they will be observed for some time.

From cheetahs to pangolins: It’s survival of the fittest for Indian wildlife

One can’t help but wonder – but these are African species. How will they cope in the Indian wilds? It’s not like they have come from a similar ecosystem. This one-of-its-kind immigration is something everyone is waiting to see how it turns out. It’s a whole new addition to the list of top Indian big wild carnivores. Even though they are cheetahs, they are not even from the same continent, and this has caused many debates in the media.

We, at Times Travel, decided we will hear from the subject experts themselves.

Speaking to us on the topic of African cheetah relocation project’s outcome, Mr. Praveen Rao Koli, retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttar Pradesh, said, “The project will definitely bring diversity to the Indian wildlife and it will hopefully save the fragile grassland ecosystem. Also, the authorities must take utmost care and precaution when it comes to relocating animals. This is a case of intercontinental translocation, which means these cheetahs are removed from their home ground to a completely alien ecosystem. A lot of care needs to be given in order to protect the cats from any kind of microbial infections. Failing to do this may bring back the unfortunate situation of 2014 in Etawah, UP, where two Asiatic lions died within a month of relocation. After consultations with expert veterinarians, other transferred lions were vaccinated on time. At present, the lions are healthy and the numbers are increasing. ”

From cheetahs to pangolins: It’s survival of the fittest for Indian wildlife

We also spoke to Vivek Menon, Founder and ED – Wildlife Trust of India, Councillor of the IUCN & Chair AsESG, Sr Advisor IFAW, on the topic of re-introduction of the cheetah into Indian wildlife (African cheetah to be specific), into an alien ecosystem, and what kind of impacts will it have on the ecosystem and the introduced species.

“I think bringing back any species that we have lost is a good thing. We have to be bold in many of the management issues and not be dependent on very conservative thoughts. Cheetahs genetically have gone through a bottleneck 10,000 years ago, and there is not all that much difference between an African or Asian cheetah. At best we are talking about subspecies. Many of the animals we have within India have subspecies. There is absolutely no issue in getting them into India”, said Vivek Menon.

We can’t talk about re-introduction of species without addressing the elephant in the room – species that are currently on the brink of extinction.

From cheetahs to pangolins: It’s survival of the fittest for Indian wildlife

A Critically Endangered female Bengal Florican from Assam

When asked about what this cheetah episode meant for the species, who will be sharing the same ecosystem and who are also some of the world’s most threatened species struggling to survive, Vivek Menon added, “If at all it is a positive thing. At a later stage, when the next generations of cheetahs go into habitats that have these threatened species, that habitat will get more protection. What we won’t do for the caracal or the Great Indian Bustard (both Critically Endangered) we will do for the cheetah because it is more charismatic and holds people’s attention. The other species will also benefit from this.”

“Lion conservation is important, tiger conservation is important, bustard conservation is important, bringing the cheetah back is also important. We have to find ways of doing all, not one”, he added.

From cheetahs to pangolins: It’s survival of the fittest for Indian wildlife

Indian courser from Nashik

We can only hope that this works out for the cheetahs and the Indian wildlife in general because where this topic gets discussed, there will be some words not just for the conservation of other threatened species in India but also for the conservation of the forest and grassland ecosystem.

Other species under threat in India

Speaking of conservation, in India, as per the Red Data Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 13 Critically Endangered species of birds and 34 species identified as Critically Endangered in the class of mammals, reptiles, fishes and amphibians.

Animals like the snow leopard, bustard (including floricans), hangul (Kashmiri stag), Nilgiri tahr, pygmy hog, Asian wild buffalo, Manipur brow-antlered deer, Asiatic lion, Swamp Deer, to name a few, they are all on the brink of extinction, mostly due to illegal hunting and loss of habitat.

From cheetahs to pangolins: It’s survival of the fittest for Indian wildlife

Chinese Pangolin from Tamenglong, Manipur (rescued and released back in the wild)

Out of these, there’s a silent victim of poaching and habitat loss – the Chinese pangolin.

Did you know that there’s a remote corner in Manipur, which might as well be one of the last natural habitats for these Chinese pangolins? The exact location is kept secret by conservationists working on this, as it also comes with the problem of international trafficking of animals.

Yes, you read that right.

Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammals. The Corbett Foundation, along with Rainforest Club Tamenglong (Tamenglong based non-profit organisation) and Manipur Forest Department, are currently working towards conservation of the Chinese pangolin and its habitat restoration.

Several views by Mr Parveen Kaswan, IFS, also shed light on what happened to the cheetah population in India. Before they went into extinction, the big cats were maimed, hunted and domesticated for further hunting. There is recorded evidence for Mughal emperor Akbar going on hunting expeditions with cheetahs a part of his hunting troupe. Mr Kaswan also shared a record of an advertisement by the then Government of India, calling tourists to come to the country to hunt in its “lush jungles”.

When a mega move like cheetah relocation comes into play, one can’t help but hope that the same level of enthusiasm and interest will be given to other species as well. Survival of the fittest they say, but all these animals too deserve a fighting chance, they deserve a habitat. Just as the one we provided for the cheetahs.

  1. What is Project Cheetah?
    Project Cheetah is an ambitious project by the Government of India to re-establish the species in its erstwhile natural range in India. Project Cheetah is also the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.
  2. How many Critically Endangered species of animals are there in India?
    As per the Red Data Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 13 Critically Endangered species of birds and 34 species identified as Critically Endangered in the class of mammals, reptiles, fishes and amphibians.
  3. Where is Kuno National Park?
    Kuno National Park is in Madhya Pradesh





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