Concerned over the death of 3 cheetahs in Kuno National Park (KNP) of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court urged the Centre to consider relocating them to alternative sites like Rajasthan.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court expressed its concern over the recent deaths in KNP of three cheetahs that had been relocated from South Africa and Namibia. As KNP is insufficient for their habitation, the SC suggested that they relocate to Rajasthan.
Hearing from the Court
A bench consisting of BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol told the Centre that according to reports that they had obtained from experts, KNP was insufficient to occupy such a huge number of cheetahs. They requested the Union Government to consider alternative sites and sanctuaries like those in Rajasthan.
The bench asked the Centre to rise over politics and consider their relocation after taking views from experts. However, they also added that they were not trying to criticise the government, but that they were merely stating their concern over the well-being of the translocated felines. Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre stated that the task force is investigating all possible opportunities, including their relocation to other sanctuaries.
In a series of unfortunate events, Sasha, a female Cheetah from Namibia, succumbed to a kidney ailment on March 27. Tragically, Uday, a feline from South Africa, passed away on April 23 due to cardio-pulmonary failure. Adding to the distress, Daksha, another cheetah from South Africa, lost her life on May 9 as a result of a violent encounter during a mating attempt with a male cheetah.
The bench also raised doubts about the manner in which a cheetah with a kidney-related illness was initially brought to India. In response, Bhati stated that autopsies have been conducted on all of them, and they are currently investigating the matter. She also stated that one of them had four cubs recently, implying that they were acclimatising well in Kuno.
The suggestion was made by the court as it was considering an application made by the Centre asking it to rule that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) no longer had to adhere to the advice of the expert committee that the court had constituted.
Politics and Power Dynamics
Eight cheetahs from Namibia and 12 from South Africa were translocated to India between September 2022 and February 2023 into the quarantine enclosure of Kuno National Park. This was done as part of an initiative to reintroduce the species to the country after its extinction in the early 1950s. In accordance with the cheetah action plan, 8–14 of these felines must be imported annually from African nations into India for the following five years. The Indian government has inked memoranda of understanding with Namibia and South Africa in this regard.
Initially, the Rajasthan government had been reluctant about taking in the cheetahs but they had agreed and communicated their readiness to accommodate the cheetahs to the NTCA last year. However, now the Centre does not look ready to send the cheetahs to Rajasthan. This could be because of the split in political alignments as Rajasthan has a Congress-led government. Stating his concern, Justice Gavai told Bhati, “Don’t bring party-politics into this issue. Consider all the available habitats, whatever is suitable for them.”
the process of introducing cheetahs in India had been conducted with the expert guidance and supervision of international cheetah experts, scientists, veterinarians, forest officials, and the NTCA. This has been done in consultation with the committee appointed by the court.