Supreme Court stays move to translocate African cheetah in India

The Supreme Court of India on 8 May 2012 dealt a blow to the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) by staying its ambitious Rs. 300,0000000 (300 crore) Cheetah Reintroduction Project proposing translocation of the exotic African species from Namibia to Palpur- Kuno Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh a state of India.

The stay order came on an application alleging that the project did not have clearance from National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and was in the teeth of wild species relocation guidelines by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Quoting NBWL standing committee member Prerna Bindra the advocate said, “She has pointed out that Rs 300 crore have been allocated for the cheetah project, and the cost of each cheetah is going to be Rs. 20,000,000 (2 crore), when the total budget for Project Tiger is only Rs. 800,000,000 (80 crore) for 600 national parks and sanctuaries.”

The bench issued notice to the MoEF on the application seeking a direction to the government “to produce before the apex court all relevant records and decisions relating to introduction of cheetahs, including NBWL deliberations.”

During the arguments in the ongoing debate over NBWL’s decision approving relocation of surplus lions in Gir National Park in Gujarat (India) to Palpur Kuno, the court was told that MoEF has taken a decision to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the same proposed habitat chosen for re-introduction of lions from Gir.

The counsel said, “The decision to introduce African cheetahs to the same habitat chosen for lions has not been either placed before the standing committee of the NBWL, nor has been a considered decision taken in this regard. Only feasibility studies have been undertaken, no deliberations conducted, and no decision taken by the Board or its standing committee is available on the public domain.”

Terming the project misconceived and in breach of IUCN guidelines, the counsel said, “The guidelines categorically warn against introduction of alien or exotic species. The African cheetah obviously never existed in India. Therefore, it is not a case of intentional movement of an organism into a part of its native range.”

The amicus also drew court’s attention to the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-16), which specifically mentioned reintroduction or finding an alternative home for many species such as Indian rhinoceros, Asiatic Wild Buffalo, Great Indian Bustard, Sangai or Brow Antlered deer of Manipur, Bengal Florican but was completely silent on reintroduction or introduction of cheetah from Africa to India.

At a time when other countries were spending huge amounts to completely eliminate foreign species introduced in their habitat, it was questionable why India took a decision to introduce alien exotic species into its biosphere, a proposition shunned by wildlife experts across the world.

It was also brought to the notice of the court that cheetah was a fragile animal requiring a huge home range which was not there at Palpur-Kuno or for that matter anywhere in India.

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