New Delhi/ Kochi: Nirva, the last African cheetah in the wild in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park, is still at large. Authorities have not been able to locate and dart her despite searching for more than a week now.
Some cheetahs in Kuno died due to maggot infections and authorities have been subjecting all the remaining cheetahs – including free-ranging ones – to health checks. The move came after two cheetahs died due to maggot infestations on July 11 and 14.
Experts have said that the radio collars caused abrasion and the moisture that accumulated under the collars due to the monsoon humidity resulted in septicaemia or an infection of the blood. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), however, has claimed that this is untrue and that all cheetahs died due to “natural causes”.
On Monday, August 7, the Supreme Court said it had “no reason to disbelieve” the Union government on the efforts it was taking to stop cheetah deaths in Kuno, per reports.
Search on for Nirva
Since the authorities found Dhatri, the other free-ranging cheetah in Kuno, dead on August 2, their efforts have been focused on capturing Nirva, the last cheetah in the wild, for a health check.
As of the evening of August 10, ground teams have still not been able to track down Nirva, said a source in the state forest department who is involved with Project Cheetah. The source did not want to be named as a gag order has been issued to officials associated with the Project to not talk to the media directly.
The staff have not been able to obtain a direct sighting of Nirva, but they have found “clues” – indirect signs such as pugmarks and scat – in some spots and are searching those areas, the source said.
Nirva’s radio collar had run into problems and is reportedly not working, which makes it difficult for the monitoring teams on ground to locate her. Nirva, like Dhatri (later found dead in the wild on August 2), is also “very shy”, sources had told The Wire. This makes it a challenge to get close enough to dart her.
There are reports that plans may be on to use a helicopter to locate the missing cheetah. However, the ground team does not have access to one yet and it may help if the authorities can provide one for the search operation, the source on ground said.
Currently, drones are being used to search the landscape for Nirva, the source cited above told The Wire.
Cheetah deaths not ‘low’, says SC
On Monday, the Supreme said it had “no reason to disbelieve” the Union government on the efforts it was taking to stop cheetah deaths in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park, reported the Indian Express.
Of the 20 African cheetahs brought into Kuno from Namibia and South Africa, six adults have died. Three of the four cubs born to one of the female cheetahs succumbed to heat stroke, said the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, in parliament recently.
A bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai, P.S. Narasimha and P.K. Mishra was hearing applications seeking the court’s intervention in the matter. They said the court does not have the expertise in the field and it was better to leave it to wildlife experts.
On behalf of the Union government, additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati told the court that there was nothing “alarming” about the cheetah deaths and that even a survival rate of 50% “would work”, per Bar and Bench.
Bhati also said that the Union government was “considering releasing a proper update because a lot of facts in media reports is incorrect [sic]”, LiveLaw reported. “We can file a status report on media reports, specifically pointing out what is correct and what is not,” it quoted Bhati as saying.
However, the court remarked that the number of deaths “is not low”. This was because media reports also included the death of three cubs, the Union government said. “The project is progressing well,” Bar and Bench quoted Bhati as saying. “We will address with data on the factually incorrect media reports.”
Currently, 13 adult cheetahs and the sole surviving cub are in enclosures in the Park.