DTE Exclusive- As Pretoria and New Delhi dither, cheetahs gain weight; some to be swapped now
Twelve cheetahs that South Africa was to send to Kuno have been in quarantine for 5 months; their unfit status means new individuals will have to be selected
South Africa may swap some of the 12 cheetahs that it is to send to India due to the long delay in signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Pretoria and New Delhi, sources in the country have told Times of Nation.
The 12 cheetahs from South Africa are to join the eight individuals from Namibia that arrived at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur district September 17, 2022.
Experts had earlier told news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) that three of the 12 cheetahs have been housed in the Phinda quarantine boma (small enclosure) in KwaZulu-Natal province. Nine others have been kept in the Rooiberg quarantine boma in Limpopo Province since July 15.
Animals that are to be shifted to other locations must be kept in quarantine for a month, according to international protocols for translocation.
This is to allow them to be properly screened for diseases and check whether they are coping well with the vaccines given to them before shifting them out.
However, since the 12 cheetahs have been in quarantine since the last five months, they are now gaining weight and losing fitness.
Because of this, experts in South Africa had to swap a few of them. The cheetahs that will replace these individuals are yet to be selected and the MoU is yet to be inked.
‘Unfortunately, due to the various delays, we had to swap some of the proposed 12 cheetahs out. The cheetahs we’re sending will be decided upon as soon as we have the MoU signed by both governments. It is all taking so much time,’ Vincent van der Merwe, manager of Cheetah Metapopulation at The Metapopulation Initiative in South Africa told DTE.
He, however, did not divulge details about the number of individuals being swapped.
Read Times of Nation’s coverage of cheetah reintroduction in India
Wildlife experts had told PTI that the 12 South African cheetahs — seven males and five females — had not hunted for themselves even once after being kept in bomas. Cheetahs being agile and swift animals need to constantly keep moving to hunt their prey and keep fit.
The MoU had been given clearance by the South African Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy in the last week of November. But President Cyril Ramaphosa still needs to clear it from his end for both countries to sign it.
A team of experts from South Africa had visited India in September to check up on the preparations in Kuno, and had left pretty happy and satisfied, JS Chouhan, principal chief conservator of forest (Wildlife) had told DTE earlier.
In the meanwhile, the eight cheetahs brought in from Namibia have been released into the bigger enclosure in Kuno and are doing well, according to the MP forest department. They are also hunting their prey now and are fast adapting to the conditions in India.
‘We are hoping to release them into the wild sometime after February. They are doing better than expected and all of them are hunting. They have so far hunted bluebulls, sambar and cheetals in Kuno. We are now waiting for the 12 individuals from South Africa. They may be here by the end of January, as far as we know,’ said Chouhan.
He however did not know if the 12 individuals are facing fitness issues in quarantine. ‘We just know that if South Africa is sending them, they will be in the best of their health. They will be kept in quarantine here for one one month too, as per protocol,’ he added.
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