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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Wishing our Hon'ble PM on his Birthday and .. .. .. 'Project Cheetah'

 17th Sept 2022 – a day to cherish – Nation is heartily celebrating the 72nd  birthday of our beloved Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji.  .. .. among the many interesting occurrences, is landing of big cats getting reintroduced after 70 years !!


Hon’ble  PM, in his speech, mentioned that the environment, nature, birds, and animals are not just about security and sustainability, but it's the basis of sensibility and spirituality. He added that India is giving a strong message to the world that ecology and economy are not conflicting fields in this modern era.  PM specifically mentioned  that cheetahs were declared extinct from India in 1952,  no efforts were made for decades to bring them back. Today, in the period of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the country has started getting them back with new energy, he added.


Lion, Tiger, Leopard, Jaguar, Panther, Cheetah !!  .. ..  "big cats" refers to those animals of the genus Panthera, where a genus is a group or category of organisms of similar characteristics that can contain one or more species.

•        The Panthera genus contains the main roaring cat types, also known as "the big four" — tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards.

•        The general cat family is the genus Felidae and contains more animals, often referred to as big cats, including pumas, cheetahs, and lynx.


The great news is Eight African cheetahs – five females and three males – have arrived in India traversing 10 hour long journey from Namibia and were released by our Hon’ble Prime Minister as part of Project Cheetah.   The animals were carefully  transported in wooden crates in a Boeing 747 freighter aircraft from the Namibian capital of Windhoek to Gwalior, in Madhya Pradesh. The Terra Avia Boeing 747 aircraft, which sports the “Siberian Tiger” theme livery, can carry 80 tonnes of cargo. For the Friday evening flight its only payload was the cheetahs and the accompanying passengers. 

Cheetah is a marvel ~ the fastest land animal.  Its  slender, long-legged body is built for speed. Cheetahs are tan in color with black spots all over their bodies. They can also be distinguished from other big cats by their smaller size, spotted coats, small heads and ears and distinctive "tear stripes" that stretch from the corner of the eye to the side of the nose. They eat mainly gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas and smaller hoofed animals. When cheetahs are running, they use their tails to help them steer and turn in the direction they want to go, like the rudder of a boat. 

In 1900, there were over 100,000 cheetahs across their historic range. Today, an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild in Africa. One would be surprised to know that they were found throughout India right from the southern part of the Nation.  Found mostly in open and partially open savannah, cheetahs rely on tall grasses for camouflage when hunting.  Surprised to read that they cannot roar !! – typically they are loners.


Their lifespan in the wild is reportedly 10-12 years only.  As it is happening to many, the sleek, speedy cheetah is rapidly heading towards extinction according to a new study into declining numbers.  They are in trouble mainly because they range far beyond protected areas and are coming increasingly into conflict with humans. According to a study, more than half the world's surviving cheetahs live in one population that ranges across six countries in southern Africa. Cheetahs in Asia have been essentially wiped out. A group estimated to number fewer than 50 individuals clings on in Iran.   

 It is stated that till last century, the Asiatic cheetah was quite common and roamed all the way from Israel, the Arabian Peninsula to Iran, Afghanistan and India. In India, they ranged as far south as the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. The Asiatic cheetah, also known as the "hunting leopard" in India was kept by kings and princes to hunt gazelle; the Moghul emperor Akbar kept them for hunting gazelle and blackbucks.  .. .. blackbucks have been hunted for long !! is also the message. 

Cheetah, the world's fastest land animal which was declared extinct in India in 1952, is now  to be re-introduced    at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.  The country's last spotted cheetah died in Chhattisgarh in 1947 and it was declared extinct in the country in 1952. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) some years back prepared a cheetah re-introduction project. The Supreme Court had earlier given its approval to introduce African cheetahs to a suitable habitat in India on an experimental basis.   

The basic aim of the Project Cheetah is to revitalise and diversify India's wildlife and its habitat. The government said that 'Project Cheetah' is world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.  In January 2020, the Supreme Court approved reintroduction of African cheetah to a suitable habitat in India. This was made possible almost 10 years after the plan was envisaged by the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh under the UPA-2 government. At that time, the apex court had put the project on hold, reported Hindustan Times. 

Kuno, located in the Chambal region, is spread over an area of over 750 sq km and has a conducive environment for the cheetah, it is stated.  The protected area, comprising a considerable population of four-horned antelopes, chinkara, nilgai, wild boar, spotted deer and sambar, has a good prey base for the cheetahs !  

Miles away, decades ago, there reportedly was organized Cheetah racing in Romford, in UK.   It is alleged that during the late 1930s, cheetah racing took place at a number of venues.  Cheetahs are solitary hunters and expend a phenomenal level of physical exertion when catching their prey, usually necessitating that they lie down and recuperate afterwards. They will only chase prey where there is a high likelihood of securing their next meal, readily giving up if there is strong competition – they lack the will and doggedness necessary for competitive racing.    

In its 'Cheetah Mitra' initiative, the government roped in volunteers to raise awareness about the Cheetah Project and provide information about the animal so as to protect nearby residents and prevent untoward incidents. One of the notable personalities who has been made a 'Cheetah Mitra' is former dacoit Ramesh Sikarwar.   Sikarwar surrendered in 1984 but his clout in the region has remained. "I will give my life but won’t let anything happen to the cheetahs," he told Aaj Tak in an interview. "I am grateful that I have been made Cheetah Mitra." 


In Tamil comedy film ‘Kalakalappu’, directed by Sundar C ~ Santhanam will show a portrait of a man attacking a Cheetah with sickle. Vimal would remark having seen it elsewhere… Santhanam retorts saying that it was his grandfather attacking the tiger – the photo which they later gave to matchbox manufacturer….. to Vimal’s remark that it does not sound believable – Santhanam would say that his grandfather told him that food would be provided only if he believes and would ask Vimal whether he would like to dine or not  !!!  Wimco Limited is a reputed manufacturer and exporter of Cardboard matches, Veneer Matches, Safety Matches, Match Box, Wax Matches and the more… you would know them better by this single product ‘Cheetah fight matchboxes’….. 

During a holiday trip to Gir – in an open truck for nearly 2 hours – we could not spot a single wild animal – leave alone sighting majestic Asiatic Lions ! .. .. may be one sights Cheetah in India !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th Sept 2022.




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