A UN study highlights the difficulties of breeding cheetahs in captivity | Latest India News

Cheetahs are “notoriously difficult to breed in captivity”, a new study from the United Nations-affiliated global wildlife regulator has found based on long-standing research into breeding cheetahs in captive facilities in Africa, the world’s largest wild home of the fastest land animal on the planet.

The study commissioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will be discussed by countries at the next meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in Geneva from July 7-11, indicates a meeting notice.

The in-depth study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cat Specialist Group with two other organizations comes as India decided to import 8-10 cheetahs from South Africa. South and Namibia for captive breeding in Madhya Pradesh. Kuno Palpur National Park.

The first batch of cheetahs from both countries are expected to arrive in Kuno at the end of August. Currently, cheetah experts, two from South Africa and one from Namibia, are studying changes to Kuno’s habitat for the relocation and breeding of cheetahs.

“Cheetahs are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity – for example, North American cheetahs have excellent genetic variation as well as housing and veterinary care, but only 23 out of 111 females had offspring,” the study said. disseminated in 180 CITES signatory countries. .

Dubious methods

Although some South African facilities such as the De Wildt (now Ayn van Dyk) Cheetah Centre, one of two CITES registered, have managed to produce over 600 cubs over the past 30 years, the Cheetah experts suspect that some facilities in South Africa may not have mastered the challenge and are “trading illegally, domestically and internationally”, live-captured wild animals, according to the study.

The study suspects the cubs are smuggled from North Africa, where they are available on private land, to these breeding centers to show off their success. “At this time, it is unclear whether South African authorities can confidently certify that all animals exported as captive-bred specimens meet all the captive-breeding requirements of the Convention,” says the study.

Following allegations and studies that cubs are being smuggled, South Africa’s CITES Management Authority recently announced that it will be exercising increased national oversight of the provincial captive cheetah registration system, with the aim of ensuring uniform implementation of regulations on protected species, according to the study. .

South Africa is the world’s largest exporter of live cheetahs. The export of cheetahs from two breeding centers in South Africa is permitted for “commercial” purposes, although most exports are reported for non-commercial zoo purposes. India also receives cheetahs from one of these centres.

Commenting on the study, Faiyaz Khudsar, a wildlife researcher who has worked for many years in Kuno, said that looking at Kuno’s ecology and associated prey base, captive breeding of cheetahs does not may not be easy.

“In the absence of certification for confident captive breeding, the direction of the cheetah introduction program raises many pertinent questions,” he said. The translocation of cheetahs would be from one captive center to another and there are many questions about whether they can ever be released back into the wild, he added.

Female cheetahs are solitary and travel great distances, while males defend smaller territories and mate when the female passes by, creating breeding problems, studies show. The reproductive rate of cheetahs is lower than that of other big cats, such as tigers and lions, the studies have pointed out.

Additionally, the cheetah’s genes pose a challenge to their continued survival, with a low rate of reproductive success, according to the research. With fewer offspring, cheetah populations cannot grow or adapt to changes in the environment, especially habitat changes.

“Cheetahs have experienced genetic bottlenecks in the past, resulting in low levels of genetic diversity in all populations. Historically, cheetahs have struggled to reproduce in captivity and their reproductive rate is low,” said said Ravi Chellam, CEO of the Metastring Foundation and coordinator of Biodiversity Collaborative.

Even the National Cheetah Translocation Action Plan released in January 2022 alluded to the animal’s low reproductive problems. The plan says the Kuno has the current capacity to support 21 cheetahs in 15 years and 36 after 30 to 40 years.

Cheetahs will remain in captivity

“During the first few years of cheetah introduction (5-6 years) or a population below 18-20 adult cheetahs, it may be prudent not to allow cheetahs to disperse into landscape sink habitats,” the report says. plan.

India is receiving six cheetahs from South Africa’s Cheetah Conservation Fund, a non-governmental organization, and about four from Namibia in the first tranche. It has signed a memorandum of understanding with the two countries on the import of cheetahs for a period of 10 years, which officials say can be extended for another five years.

Vincent Van Der Merwe and Adrian from South Africa and Laurie Marker from Namibia reviewed preparations in Kuno for the translocation of 8-12 cheetahs. When contacted, Merwe declined to speak, saying he had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the government. “I can only speak when the non-disclosure period is over,” he said.

Experts have told forestry officials in Madhya Pradesh to divide the 5km² enclosure into nine equal parts to separate males and females for planned breeding, officials said.

“Once they have adapted to the new habitat, two to three male cheetahs will be released into the female cheetah enclosure,” a forestry official said based on interaction with African experts.

“The team liked the arrangement. They asked to complete the fence and the bifurcation within the next fortnight. We have prepared a special water bowl that will fill automatically, so the experts loved the concept and asked to do this in every part of the captivity,” Kuno Divisional Forestry Officer PK Verma said. “They are also happy with the prey base.”

“Along with experts from South Africa and Namibia, experts from the WII (Wildlife Institute of India) were also present during the visit,” said the state’s chief wildlife warden, JS Chauhan. “All suggestions and comments will be compiled in the form of a report and will be sent to the Indian government for action.”

More than 117 years after the failure of the African lion rehabilitation project, the government has prepared an enclosure for the cheetahs in the dry deciduous forest landscape of Kuno Palpur. In 1905, 10 lions were brought from Africa. Among them, seven arrived, who were killed by local villagers. Kuno had lost all his lions in 1872 and his cheetahs in the early 1920s.

In 2010, India embarked on a new journey for the reintroduction of the cheetah into the wild. The plan was to bring cheetahs from Africa and release them into the wild to repopulate the cheetah population in the country. Kuno was chosen as the habitat where the cheetahs could be relocated.

However, the project stalled as some wildlife activists moved the Supreme Court against the project, saying it was not feasible. The top court overturned the proposal, agreeing with critics that cheetah survival in altered ecological demographics was difficult.

However, in 2018, the Madhya Pradesh government revived the project, asking the court to reconsider the project. The court agreed, and in 2020 appointed a panel of experts led by a retired Indian Administrative Service officer, MP Ranjit Sinh, to review cheetah-friendly wildlife areas.

The committee in January 2021 chose Kuno National Park as the first destination for the cheetah translocation project. The Supreme Court gave the green light.

(With contributions from Shruti Tomar in Bhopal)


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Chetan Chauhan leads the regional editions as deputy editor for national affairs. A journalist for over 20 years, he has written extensively on the social sector with a particular focus on the environment and political economy.
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