Supreme Court puts cheetah on the fast track to re-enter India1 min read . Updated: 29 Jan 2020, 12:55 AM IST
- Asiatic cheetahs were hunted close to extinction during the British colonial era before disappearing in the 1950s
- Conservationists have been divided on the introduction of the foreign species into India
More than half a century after the extinction of Asiatic cheetahs, the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave its approval to introduce African cheetahs to a suitable habitat in India on an experimental basis.
Asiatic cheetahs were hunted close to extinction during the British colonial era before disappearing in the 1950s.
In 2013, the apex court had rejected a proposal by the environment ministry to import the big cats from Africa, saying there was no scientific study to back the move.
However, on Tuesday, the court ruled that the world’s fastest land mammal could be brought to India as part of a pilot to find out if it can adapt to the surroundings.
The court set up a three-member committee to guide the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on the issue, PTI reported.
India’s former environment minister Jairam Ramesh welcomed the decision. “Delighted that Supreme Court has just given OK to reintroducing cheetah from Namibia. This was something I had initiated 10 years ago," he tweeted. “Cheetah which derives from the Sanskrit ‘chitra’ (speckled) is the only mammal hunted to extinction in modern India."
The cheetah is considered vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list of threatened species, with a declining population of less than 7,000 found primarily in African savannas.
A small Asiatic population is also found in Iran where it is critically endangered.
Conservationists have been divided on the introduction of the foreign species into India.
Some say it diverts time and resources from other endangered species in the country, while others believe it could aid the cheetah’s long-term survival.
“It is a good sign. But it is just the beginning. When species go extinct locally, and we plan to reintroduce them, we have to first remove the factors that led to the extinction in the first place. The areas selected for the project should be suitable for the species," said Anup Kumar Nayak, member-secretary, NTCA.
Reintroduction of large carnivores has increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions. But, according to the guidelines laid down by the IUCN, there should be adequate risk assessment done, as global evidence shows that introductions of species outside their indigenous range can cause extreme, negative impacts which can become evident only long after the introduction.
Mint’s Srishti Choudhary contributed to this story.