Septicemia Caused Deaths of Four Cheetahs: Union Environment Minister

Adult male Shaurya that died on January 16 is the fourth cheetah to die due to septicemia, Minister Bhupender Yadav told the Rajya Sabha.   

New Delhi: Shaurya – an adult male cheetah that died on January 16 this year – died due to septicemia like three other cheetahs, Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav said in a reply to a question posed in the Rajya Sabha on February 8.

So far, no other details were known about Shaurya’s death except that the animal died despite being treated for “weakness”. Officials had said the cause of death could be ascertained only once the post-mortem results – which are still awaited – came in. The reply by Yadav, however, does not say what caused Shaurya or the other three cheetahs to be affected by septicemia.

Shaurya is the seventh adult cheetah to die so far, and the most recent death among the 20 cheetahs that were originally brought to India as part of Project Cheetah, which aims to introduce the African cheetah into select grassland habitats in India.   

Variation in causes of deaths?

On February 8 in the Rajya Sabha, union environment minister Bhupender Yadav listed the causes due to which the seven adult cheetahs died in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park, where Project Cheetah is ongoing. The Minister listed this in response to questions in the Rajya Sabha regarding the Project by Sushil Kumar Modi, Member of Parliament from Bihar and a BJP leader. Modi inquired about the number of cubs born to cheetahs in Kuno, how many animals had died till now and the reasons for their deaths in “such high numbers”. He also asked whether the number of deaths till now is “usual or unusual” in such cheetah relocation projects, and what efforts the government is taking to avoid more cheetah deaths.

Per Yadav’s reply, the cheetahs Sasha, Uday and Daksha died due to “renal insufficiency”, “neurological” issues, and during a “violent encounter with a male coalition during a mating attempt”, respectively. The four other adults – Tejas, Suraj, Dhatri and Shaurya – all died due to septicemia, per Yadav’s reply.

Incidentally, some of these causes vary from a similar list submitted by Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State for the Environment, Forest and Climate Change on July 20 last year, also to the Rajya Sabha. Per Choubey’s submission, while Sasha died due to chronic renal or kidney failure, Daksha died due to “traumatic shock” (as opposed to Yadav’s latest list that puts it to a violent mating attempt), and Uday died due to cardiopulmonary failure (as opposed to Yadav’s most recent list that lists the cause of Uday’s death as “neurological”). Officials, meanwhile, had also told Hindustan Times on April 25 last year that as per the preliminary post-mortem report, Uday died due to cardiopulmonary failure.

The reasons for death, as submitted by Choubey in the Rajya Sabha on July 20, 2023.

 ‘Four cheetahs died due to septicemia’

Choubey also said that Tejas, Suraj and Daksha died of “traumatic shock”. Yadav, on the other hand, has submitted in his latest list that the three cheetahs died of “septicemia” – possibly the first time that the Ministry is admitting to this. 

The reason for deaths of cheetahs as submitted by Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav on February 8.

For instance, the National Tiger Conservation Authority – which is implementing Project Cheetah – had issued a statement on July 16 last year saying that all cheetah deaths occurred due to “natural causes” and that any reports attributing the deaths to other reasons are “speculation and hearsay and not based on any scientific evidence”. This came a day after two experts on the Cheetah Project Steering Committee had told The Wire (on July 15 last year) that the deaths of Tejas and Suraj were caused by septicaemia, an infection of the bloodstream, brought on by wounds caused by the combined effects of abrasion of radio collars fitted on their necks and moisture accumulated under the collars. One of the experts also told The Wire that Suraj’s death was “potentially avoidable” and that authorities lost “a full day” in taking action while waiting for the post-mortem report of Tejas, the first cheetah to die of a neck wound on July 11.

On August 2, a press note released by the Madhya Pradesh forest department said that a monitoring team found Dhatri, a female, dead in the wild in Kuno that morning. The animal, which authorities were trying to capture from the wild after the deaths of Tejas and Surya, was then the sixth adult to die. In a series of tweets on August 3, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) which has assisted Project Cheetah, said that a post-mortem revealed that Dhatri died due to myiasis, or infection caused by fly larvae (maggots). As per Yadav’s latest list, Dhatri died of septicemia.

The seventh death — and most recent so far — is that of Shaurya, a male from Namibia, on January 16. Yadav, in his recent list, has also submitted to the Rajya Sabha that Shaurya too died of septicemia. The animal, housed in an enclosure, was treated for “weakness” after it displayed a “staggering gait”, officials had said. However, the animal died despite treatment. Officials had said the cause of death could be ascertained only once the detailed post-mortem results – which is yet to be announced by the Ministry or the NTCA – came in.

Per Yadav’s reply: “To ensure conservation and protection of Cheetahs in India, actions are taken as per scientific action plan prepared with inputs of leading Cheetah experts including biologists, ecologists, conservationists and managers. A Cheetah Project Steering Committee has been constituted to review progress, monitor and advise on the Cheetah introduction in consultation with international cheetah experts, as and when required.”

As per the Action Plan for the introduction of Cheetah, 12-14 individuals per year are proposed to be brought from South Africa and Namibia or other African countries during the next five years, depending upon the availability of animals and status of introduced cheetahs, Yadav said in his response to the Rajya Sabha. His reply also mentioned that actions are being taken to introduce cheetahs into Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary.