New Delhi: Two more cubs that cheetah Jwala gave birth to in the last week of March this year died in Kuno National Park on Thursday, May 25, the Madhya Pradesh forest department said.
In total, three cubs and three adult translocated cheetahs have died. The African cheetahs have been brought to Kuno from Namibia and South Africa as part of a project to reintroduce the big cat in India. The first cheetah cub died on May 23, also due to weakness. Officials had said it was the runt of the litter and was weaker than its siblings.
In a press note, the forest authorities said the two cubs’ death could have been caused by extreme heat and the dry summer wind, which worsened their health. The temperature in Kuno was 46-47°C, the department said.
The cubs were sent to wildlife doctors posted in Palpur, however, their condition had deteriorated and they couldn’t survive. A post-mortem examination of the cubs is underway.
Most cheetah cubs have been found to be weak, underweight, and extremely dehydrated, the press note added. The survival rate of cheetah cubs is also low, the forest department said.
Of the four cubs that Jwala gave birth to, only one is alive now.
Of three adult cheetahs that have died, Daksha died due to an injury inflicted during mating on May 9. Previously, one cheetah died due to kidney failure and the other due to cardio-pulmonary because of loss of fitness.
India received eight cheetahs from Namibia and 12 from South Africa. Of these three adult cheetahs have died.
Meanwhile, South African wildlife expert Vincent van der Merwe – who is closely associated with Project Cheetah – warned that there would be more fatalities in the future when the big cats try to establish territories and come face to face with leopards and tigers in the Kuno National Park.
In an interview with the news agency PTI, van der Merwe said that the government should fence “two to three habitats for cheetahs as there has never been a successful reintroduction into an unfenced reserve in recorded history”.
In the interview, conducted before the forest department announced the death of the two cubs on Thursday, van der Merwe said the “frenzy” about the death of four cheetahs is unwarranted. The feeling that the project is failing is not true, he said. “Cheetahs naturally have high mortality rates. And we observed these same mortality rates in Africa when we reintroduced them into unfenced systems,” he said.
He said while the deaths have been within the acceptable range, “the team of experts that reviewed the project recently did not expect males to kill a South African female cheetah during courtship and ‘they take full responsibility for this’.”
Concerns have already been raised about Kuno’s carrying capacity. The Madhya Pradesh forest department last month wrote to the National Tiger Conservation Authority – which is overseeing Project Cheetah – that an “alternate” site should be found for new cheetahs to be released. The department said it would not be able to monitor the movements of all of them living free.
Van der Merwe told PTI that at least three or four cheetahs could be released in the fenced Mukundra Hills reserve, and let them breed.
“Mukundra Hills is fully fenced. We know that cheetahs will do very well there. The only problem is that it’s not fully stocked at the moment. So you’ll have to bring in some black buck and chinkara. And when the fencing is completed at Nauradehi and Gandhisagar, we will have three fenced reserves and then we are absolutely winning,” he said.
Note: Details from van der Merwe’s interview were added to this article after it was published.