In August, eight leopards will be brought from Namibia to India to try to bring the species back to the country, 70 years after the local population was officially declared extinct. It will be launched in the Kono Balpur National Park, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India.
In the past, leopards were present in large numbers not only in Africa, but also in some regions of Asia, from the Arabian Peninsula to Afghanistan, with subspecies of Asian leopards, Asinonex jubatus venaticus According to the scientific nomenclature. Today, very few remain and only in Iran: in the 1970s there were about 300, and now, according to the latest official Iranian census, there will be only 12.
The species practically disappeared due to the shrinkage of their habitats due to human activities, and food scarcity due to the general decline in the numbers of wild animals and hunting: during the British domination of India, they were killed to prevent the ripping of cattle. There have been no cheetahs in the country since at least 1952: since then it has been tried several times for reintroduction, but without success.
It took two years to regulate the arrival of leopards in Kono-Palpur, after the Indian Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the species could be reintroduced, provided the attempt was made in a “carefully selected area”. Namibia was asked why this southern African country has the largest number of wild leopards (other states where they are found in greater numbers are South Africa and Botswana).
This species is considered “vulnerable” to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the international body recognized by the United Nations that assesses animal and plant species at risk of extinction. There should be about seven thousand of them in the wild around the world. In 2017, a reintroduction project was also initiated in Malawi, in Southeast Africa, where cheetahs became extinct in the late 1980s: of the four animals brought into the country, a small number of animals grew that in 2021 amounted to 24.
Cheetahs are animals that can live in different natural environments, in sandy deserts, in savannas, but also in mountainous regions, and they tolerate very different temperatures, from 45 ° C to -15 ° C. However, they may find themselves in difficulty if, for lack of prey, they find themselves competing with other large predators, such as lions and hyenas also in Africa, which they overpower and can kill, or if they are pushed to get close to livestock: in this case they can Conflicts arise with human societies, as well as with other types of predators of the world.
For this reason, the cheetahs are better off those that live in enclosed natural gardens, I have explained to BBC Biologist Vincent van der Merwe, South African leopard scientist: “In the absence of fences, the number of leopards decreases due to habitat reduction and retaliatory killing by breeders.”
According to van der Merwe, re-entry into India may be a problem because most protected natural areas are not fenced. This is the case of the Kono Balpur park, which, however, was chosen for its size: according to Indian biologists, leopards need an area of \u200b\u200bat least 5 thousand square kilometers. The problem is that in India there are a few large areas where people do not live and those that are are shrinking.
Indian Environment Minister, Bhubandar Yadav, He said that the reintroduction of cheetahs to India “has the broader goal of re-establishing an ecological function in the Indian grasslands that was lost with the extinction of the Asian leopard” and argued that the presence of the animals would favor ecotourism. For Indian politics, the return of the species also has symbolic value, as it will coincide with the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom.
If all goes as planned, more cheetahs will be brought to India in the next few years: at least twenty cheetahs will be needed for the new population to have enough genetic diversity to thrive.
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