New Delhi: The Union environment ministry’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) which implements Project Cheetah — India’s ambitious cheetah introduction programme in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park — announced on May 26 that it constituted a Project Steering Committee. The Committee will review the progress of Project Cheetah, monitor the programme, and advise the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and NTCA whenever required, as per a press release by the union environment ministry.
The new Committee
The Committee is dominated by past and present members of the NTCA and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. It also has a panel of cheetah experts who are involved in cheetah conservation and introduction in Africa, who will advice the MP Forest Department and NTCA.
The Committee will be chaired by Rajesh Gopal (former member secretary of the NTCA and currently with the Global Tiger Forum). Members of the Committee include R.N. Mehrotra, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force, Rajasthan; P. R. Sinha, a former director of the Wildlife Institute of India; H. S. Negi, a member of the NTCA; G. S. Rawat, former Dean of the WII; Qamar Qureshi, a scientist with the WII; the current Inspector General of the NTCA; the current Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, and others.
The NTCA has also constituted a panel of international cheetah experts who will provide advice “as an when required” to Project Cheetah. They experts are Adrian Tordiffe (Veterinary Wildlife Specialist, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa); Laurie Marker, of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia; Andrew John Fraser, Farm Olievenbosch, South Africa; and Vincent van dan Merwe, Manager, of the Cheetah Metapopulation Project, The Metapopulation Initiative, South Africa.
To monitor, advice cheetah introduction
The Committee will review the progress of the programme and monitor it. It will also provide advice on cheetah introduction to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and the NTCA, as per the press release.
It will open “the cheetah habitat” for eco-tourism and suggest regulations to further this. It will also provide suggestions on how to involve the community in the project’s activities.
In October last year, the union environment ministry had constituted a “Cheetah Task Force” to monitor India’s cheetah introduction programme. The Task Force, which was dominated by officials of the Madhya Pradesh state government including the Forest Department (and only one member each from the NTCA and WII), was to function for two years. Its functions included reviewing and monitoring the health status of the African cheetahs, monitoring their release into the wild, and so on.
However, as per the latest announcement by the union environment ministry, the new Cheetah Project Steering Committee will replace the Cheetah Task Force. It will be in force for two years, and meet once a month.
The union government had told the Supreme Court on May 18 that none of the officials including members of Task Force have any experience in cheetah management in India as the animal went extinct from the country in the 1940s. In March, just after the first cheetah death in Kuno, the Supreme Court had sought details regarding the experts included in the Cheetah Task Force, including their qualification and experience, PTI had reported.