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Presence of leopards a worry as Kuno in MP prepares to welcome cheetahs
Bhopal, Aug 7 - Spread over 344 square km. Kuno National Park located in Sheopur and Morena districts of Gwalior-Chambal division in Madhya Pradesh, is getting ready to welcome the first batch of cheetahs from two African countries - South Africa and Namibia.
The Union government signed the MoU with Namibia last month in New Delhi, and if all goes as per the plan, four to eight cheetahs are likely to arrive in the first lot before August 15. However, Madhya Pradesh Wildlife was yet to receive a confirmed date from the Centre.
These African cheetahs will be brought to India under a translocation project. In India, the project is being managed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under the Union Environment Ministry.
As per the wildlife officials in Madhya Pradesh, cheetahs from Namibia will be flown to South Africa and then to Delhi. After that they will be flown to Gwalior, subsequently they will be taken to Kuno national park via road.
The official said that the animal will return to a wild enclosure in India 69 years after the last recorded cheetah was hunted down in what is now Chhattisgarh in 1952.
Meanwhile, authorities at Kuno have finalised preparations but the presence of three leopards in the enclosure of cheetahs is creating problems for them. The old dweller of the forest (leopards) doesn't seem ready to share space with the foreigners.
Sources said the forest officials are scrambling to get things ready for the translocation, at least six leopards have been trapped so far. "Unless these leopards are evicted, the cheetahs cannot be brought in. Leopards are much larger than cheetahs and are known to injure or even kill them. Drop-door cages with goats have been used but only two cubs were caught and released outside the enclosure," said a wildlife official.
Officials in Kuno National Park told IANS that a 12 km-long and 9-feet high fence with electric overhangs and a 24x7 CCTV watch, will give the cheetahs some degree of protection as they settle into their new home.
Experts associated with the project say some conflict between leopards and cheetahs is inevitable, but the fenced off enclosure will give the cheetahs a level of protection during their most vulnerable time as they come to terms with their new home.
"We were trying to shift the leopards naturally but now our priority is to shift them as soon as possible. The trap has been installed but the leopards are eluding the forest officials. Now, the forest officials will tranquilise the animals to remove them from the enclosure of 500 hectares," said JS Chauhan, principal chief conservator of forests in Madhya Pradesh.
He added, "Other preparations including the arrangement of water and shifting of prey base of at least 100 deer have also been finalised."
Experts said the African cheetahs would be quarantined for at least two weeks, which is called a 'soft release.' During this period their health and activities will be closely monitored.
The second process is called a 'hard release', during which cheetahs will be set free to move into the forest.
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