Asiatic Cheetah is a species of Cheetah that was found over major parts of west, central, south, and south-west Asia. India was a major habitat of Asiatic Cheetah till early 1800s. However, the species declined in India throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, until it became completely extinct from Indian soil by 1951. The Asiatic Cheetah is now found only in north-eastern Iran, where only a dozen cheetahs are left.
Asiatic Cheetahs are different from African Cheetahs, which have so far been successfully able to survive. African Cheetahs were mainly able to survive because of vast territories of savanna, abundance of prey, little human habitation, little man-wild conflict, less illegal poaching and establishment of world-class national parks. However, the same favourable conditions were not met in India and large parts of Asia, and hence Asiatic Cheetah is on the verge of extinction.
In India, Asiatic Cheetahs had a substantial population during the Mughals as evident from Akbar’s regime. Afterwards, during British rule, it was called hunting leopard as it was a favourite hunt for the maharajas and the British alike. The last 3 cheetahs were shot by the Maharaja of Surguja in 1948, though sighting of a female cheetah was reported in north-west Chhattisgarh in 1951. However, Asiatic Cheetah was declared completely extinct from India in 1952.
As early as 1955, there were plans to introduce cheetahs back to India from other parts of the world, notably from Iran or Africa. Importing from Iran will likely be better as it is the same species of cheetah that once dominated India. However, the plan was dropped as, due to dwindling numbers, Iran was unwilling to send any Asiatic Cheetah. Now, India has looked towards Africa and also has struck a deal with Namibia for acquiring African cheetahs, which will be introduced in the wild in India.
From the latest information, 8 cheetahs are arriving on 17th September from Namibia and 12 will come more from South Africa in October. They will undergo a month-long quarantine, after which they will be released in the Kuno National Park, around 200 miles south of Delhi. Although India awaits the arrival of the cheetahs, the fastest animal on earth, many experts say the introduction is controversial, and the same fate may happen with them as had happened with the Asiatic Cheetah 70 years ago.
Written by – Himadri Paul