India’s ludicrous cheetah reintroduction plan

India's ludicrous plan to reintroduce the cheetah to its nonexistent wilderness must be stopped, and fast, Jay Mazoomdar argues in this week's Open.

"The cheetah was officially declared extinct in India in 1952. Six decades on, the country has come a long way. The GDP has increased by 66,400 per cent. The human population has grown from 350 million to 1.2 billion. The forest cover remains the same on paper, but more than 40 per cent of it is degraded beyond recognition. Poachers have replaced hunters. Man-animal conflict has become news staple. Even tiger numbers have slipped below the 1972 level when Project Tiger was launched," India's best wildlife writer explains. "And yet, certain experts feel the cheetah could get second time lucky."

Fat chance. But not only does the plan represent an unwelcome distraction from the business of protecting India's surviving species — all of which are under threat from the expanding population, and several of which are critically endangered — it also has more than a few of the characteristics of a self-justifying money-spinner, Mazoomdar implies.

To start with, the great cheetah plan was supposed to be free, as Dr MK Ranjitsinh, India’s first director of wildlife during the 1970s and chairman of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), said it “does not entail diverting any funds allocated by the Government for conservation of existing endangered species and habitats. No fund support is sought from the Government”.  But it wasn't long before the allocations started rolling in anyway.

Now the price tag is a whopping $60 million, Mazoomdar reports. And it's still not very likely to work, as almost all of the factors that drove the cat to extinction more than 50 years ago have gotten steadily worse.

In Africa, their main remaining habitat, cheetahs are considered a threatened species by the world's leading conservation organizations, which estimate there are about 12,400 cheetahs living in the wild. Sending some of them to India would not only be a waste of money, it would be consigning them to oblivion — and threatening India's other endangered breeds as well.

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