THE return of the Cheetah to Indian forests is one of the most welcome developments to the country’s ecology and environment -- thanks to the successful planning and effort of the authorities, masterminded by none other than Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. That the Prime Minister released those eight Cheetahs personally on his birthday was only symbolic. What was of a greater importance was the importance the Government afforded to filling up a blank space in the country’s forest biological eco-system. Once this experiment succeeds and the country’s forests start boasting of more numbers of the Cheetah, there will be significant improvement in general environment not only of the jungle but also of the entire landscape. Such is the mystique of the environmental web created by Nature.
Some tentative lip-service was offered to the cause of the extinct Cheetahs in the past 70 years. But much of that went waste since it was not backed with actual, on-the-ground effort. And then came the Prime Minister’s personal initiative that has ensured the return of the Cheetah to Indian forests. May this project expand and help promote genuine effort even in other sectors of the conservation and protection of the overall environment.
The Cheetah is a wonderfully fast-moving and graceful animal that has not been know to attack humans -- unless, of course, provoked beyond limits of its patience. The manner in which those eight animals behaved upon their release into the woods showed certain carefulness and innocence on their part. They moved out of their cages carefully, looking around, closely watching every possible feature of the forest, almost tip-toeing for a while, pausing, looking back, examining every detail of the surrounding, ready to duck, ready to dart, ready to dare -- all in all presenting a picture of grace and grandeur of the jungle. There is little doubt that the eight Cheetahs will add to the glory of the forests in which they would finally be let loose.
The Cheetah experiment is in line with the earlier experiments India did as regards the lion and the tiger. In the famed Gir forest of Gujarat, there were only a couple of hundreds of lions left at one time. Then came a carefully-planned programme to protect the lions from going extinct. Now, the country can boast of a more than three times increase in the numbers.
Worse was the case of the tiger say fifty years ago. The country saw the tiger population dwindle to less than a hundred in just a few decades. Then came not just the restrictions on shikar (hunting) -- plus the famed Project Tiger. This was the country’s signature project in terms of environment conservation by way of which now the country can boast of over 3,000 tigers in its forests. The Project Tiger provided to the animal on the verge of extinction a complete and safe forest eco-system backed by official infrastructure and attention. Through times good and not so good, the Project Tiger made spectacular progress.
The experiment with the Cheetah, too, is expected to make a similar progress. The only difference between the Cheetah project and the projects for the lion and the tiger is that the country had not been left with a single Cheetah -- while there were at least some lions and tigers in the forests. This means, the Cheetah project will need a far greater attention to detail in the initial years. For some time, the eight Cheetahs are going to kept in a fenced forest so that they get protected environment. Later, however, the authorities plan to release those graceful beasts into open jungles in which they will fend for themselves, feed themselves -- and procreate in healthy numbers.
Only one caution the authorities need to take about forest animals is to make efforts to avoid man-animal conflict. If that is taken care of, then the Cheetah project, too, would succeed hugely. But this effort to avoid the man-animal conflict will have to be made at an all-India level so that the forests are kept safe from human invasion. In the past few years, on a nationwide basis, quite many wild animals have fallen prey to the expanding human interference in forests. A national policy will have to be designed and implemented strictly to avoid the collision of interests of human society and the animals in the forests.