Project Cheetah is the effort to reintroduce cheetahs to the Indian subcontinent. It may mean that cheetahs replace tigers as an Indian conservation icon. Whatever happens, re-introduction will not be easy or immediate, a prominent expert on cheetahs says.
Some call Project Cheetah the largest mammal reintroduction effort ever. But it has competition with similar efforts involving jaguars and rhinos. Namibian cheetahs are being re-introduced to India. About 20 have arrived so far, but 2 of them have died in the transfer process.
Divyabhanusinh Chavda is the author of two acclaimed books on cheetahs. He has detailed the history of the cats in India up to their extinction. He recently spoke about their future as cheetahs replace tigers as India’s conservation icon.
According to the Bhopal Literature and Art Festival:
“He is widely recognized for his pioneering research on the history of the Asiatic Cheetah and Asiatic Lion. His book, The End of a Trail: The Cheetah in India, first published in 1995 and which has since run into multiple editions, is the only book on the Cheetah in India. His work on Asiatic Cheetah in India earned him a rare Doctor of Literature (D. Litt.) in 1998 from the University of Pune.”
Cheetahs have never had much of an advocate, unlike tigers and leopards. They do not seize the public imagination, according to the article in The Print. They were treated as vermin during British rule and neglected after. Many believe cheetahs went extinct in 1947 when an Indian prince killed three. But Chavda argues for 1997 as the last legitimate sighting.
Conservationists hope that the re-introduction will revitalize India’s grasslands. That, in turn, will create better habitat for many animals. The cheetah as “icon” may seize Indian imagination leading to a more balanced conservation drive. Chavda hopes Gir lions will benefit from more cheetah habitat. Gir lions (Asiatic lions) were once widespread. They are down to about 600 individuals. They have become the icon of Gujarat state.
The Indian government is dedicated to conservation efforts and is claiming many successes. Cheetahs face a rocky road all over the world. Fewer than 7,000 are believed to exist today. In most of their range they face poaching and other persecution.