The country last saw cheetahs 70 years ago however recently, the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh welcomed cheetahs brought from Namibia. It has been reported recently that cheetahs are adapting well and hunting and eating on their own. While it is a matter of pride, it also makes one question what led to the extinction of the cheetahs in the first place. The cause of the cheetah's extinction in India has been the subject of significant discussion.

The name "cheetah" is derived from Hindustani Urdu: چیتا and Hindi: चीता (ćītā) which in turn find their origin in the Sanskrit language (चित्रय meaning 'variegated' or 'adorned'). The oldest visual evidence of the Asiatic cheetah may be discovered in cave paintings in Kharvai and Khairabad, as well as the upper Chambal valley in Madhya Pradesh, ranging from 2500 to 2300 BCE. The Bengal to the United Provinces, Punjab and Rajputana, and Central India to the Deccan were among the cheetah's former habitats according to a supplement issued by the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society in 1935.

The historical range of the cheetah in India- (a) Divyabhanusinh 2006, (b) Seshadri 1969.

As far as the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Afghanistan, and India are concerned, the Asiatic cheetah was quite common until the 20th century. Their range extended southward to the Tamil Nadu district of Tirunelveli. Asiatic cheetahs were kept by kings and princes for hunting gazelle and blackbuck in India, and were known as "hunting leopards."

Located in Alwar, this 1878 painting depicts cheetahs and lynxes chained to charpais by their keepers.

The Indian government proclaimed cheetahs extinct in 1951–1952. However, a number of credible, if rare, sightings were reported as late as the early 1970s, including two in the open forests of Danto Kalan in Jharkhand's Hazaribagh district in 1975 and two in the woods of Koriya and neighbouring Surguja in Madhya Pradesh in 1967 and 1968.

Iranians just like Indians used cheetahs for hunting games and Persian ceramics often depict hunters and their hunting cheetahs and horses. Since the early 1970s, representatives of India and Iran have been in touch regarding the return of the cat to India. In exchange, Iran requested that India give them two large cats, the tiger and the Asiatic lion, which it had lost during the previous century. Despite initial talks, the idea never materialised, partly because there were no cheetahs in captivity and extremely low populations of the animals spread throughout thousands of square miles of untamed hinterlands in Iran. India has shown interest in resurrecting the project and turned to Africa. It was believed that the African species may be introduced here because there was not a significant genetic difference between Asian and African cheetahs. The severely endangered grasslands, savannah, and dry regions of India, which are frequently rejected by policymakers as "wastelands," might be revived with the help of cheetahs.

In January 2022, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav launched the action plan, titled "Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India," and stated that the cheetahs which had gone extinct in independent India, are all ready to return. It's interesting to note that this is the first time a huge carnivore has ever been moved from one continent to another. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed plans for the cheetah to return to Madhya Pradesh in the country in November 2021.

The strategy benefits the ecology in addition to saving the big cat. Cheetahs dwell on open plains; their habitat is mainly comprised of grasslands, scrubs, and open woodland systems, as well as semi-arid areas with generally warmer-than-usual temperatures. The protection of other endangered species present in open woodland and grassland areas, some of which are in danger of becoming extinct, would be vital in order to save cheetahs in addition to their prey base, which includes a number of fragile species. Many specialists questioned whether or not the cheetah could survive in the new environment, which led to a great deal of criticism of the "Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India." However, recent months have disproved the presumptions and shown that it is possible for cheetahs to not only survive but effectively adapt to a new environment.


References:

  1. LODH, S. “Portrayal of ‘Hunting’ in Environmental History of India”. ALTRALANG Journal, Vol. 2, no. 02, Dec. 2020, pp. 190-06, https://www.univ-oran2.dz/revuealtralang/index.php/altralang/article/view/84.
  2. India plans to reintroduce cheetahs: All you need to know about the vulnerable species https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/photos/india/india-plans-to-reintroduce-cheetahs-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-vulnerable-species-8916751.html
  3. Jhala, Y.V., Ranjitsinh, M.K., Bipin, C.M., Yadav, S.P., Kumar Alok, Mallick Amit, Chouhan, J. S., Garawad, R, Ninama, C.S., Verma, P.K., Jhala, H., Bandyopadhyay, K., Sarkar, M., Sultan, Sen, P., Rautela, N., Singanjude, M., Sharma, S., Choudhary, P., Saraswat, M., Jain, A., Patel, K., Jain, D, Banerjee, K., Muliya, S.K., & Qureshi, Q. “Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India” Wildlife Institute of India, National Tiger Conservation Authority and Madhya Pradesh Forest Department. ISBN: 81-85496-65-X action_plan_cheetah_introduction_jan_2022.pdf (wii.gov.in)
  4. Divyabhanusinh, “The End of a Trail: The Cheetah in India”, Banyan Books 1995
  5. Cheetah reintroduction in India, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheetah_reintroduction_in_India
  6. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1788373
  7. From extinction to re-introduction: Brief history of Indian cheetah | Deccan Herald
  8. How the cheetah went ‘extinct’ from India | Condé Nast Traveller India (cntraveller.in)