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Freddie and Elton kill again: Why India’s cheetah pair is being tracked so closely

Two cheetahs in Kuno have killed another deer. Why is this being talked about? Aren't cheetahs supposed to hunt anyway? Yes, they are, and that is precisely why this is a big deal. We explain.

cheetahs kuno, cheetahs in india, cheetahs kill, PM Modi cheetah, indian express, Cheetah news, Kuno news, express explainedIndia's cheetah reintroduction project is the first time in the world that a large carnivore has been relocated from one continent to another. (Photo: PTI)

The two Cheetah brothers in Kuno National Park, Freddie and Elton, made their second successful hunt on Wednesday evening, once again killing a Cheetal (spotted deer), forest officials said.

This comes over three days after their first kill, on the evening of November 6 (Sunday), which was reported Monday.

But wait, why is this being talked about? Aren’t cheetahs supposed to hunt anyway?

Yes, they are. And that is precisely why this is a big deal — that the cheetahs, who reached Kuno all the way from Namibia after flying 8,000 km over the Indian ocean, are exhibiting normal behaviour, which shows they are adapting well, and India’s cheetah reintroduction project worth Rs 96 crore is on the right track.

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Forest officials on latest kill

Cheetahs kill once every two-three days, and after Freddie and Elton hunted a cheetal on Sunday, forest officials were waiting to see if they would confirm to this behaviour.

“Considering that they kill every two-three days, we were expecting them to make another kill soon. The monitoring team had also spotted them making a chase last evening,” a forest official told The Indian Express, requesting anonymity.

The kill was spotted this morning by a monitoring team that tracks the brothers everyday to ensure their safety. The animals are tracked in the wild using a Very High Frequency (VHF) satellite collar.

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Of the last cheetal killed, Freddie and Elton finished off about 25-30 kg of meat, forest officials said. This appetite and hunting behavior shows the cheetahs seem to be thriving, the first hunt was not a fluke, and that they have not lost any muscle strength in their long travel and quarantine.

“It is encouraging to learn about the ‘rockstars’, Freddie and Elton, successfully hunting another spotted deer within five days of their release from the quarantine boma. This proves they are in the best of health conditions and agility, even after the mandatory quarantine period. Our field team along with a team from Wildlife Institute of India and the Namibian experts have worked hard and have taken good care of these cheetahs,” said Chief Wildlife Warden JS Chauhan.

Why weren’t they hunting all this while?

India’s cheetah reintroduction project is the first time in the world that a large carnivore has been relocated from one continent to another.

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After the cheetahs reached India on September 17, they were kept in quarantine bomas (enclosures) to prevent them catching infections from other animals, and were fed buffalo meat.

They are being released into a larger enclosure in a staggered manner, with Freddie and Elton being the first, on November 5.

The next cheetah to be released in the large enclosure will be another male, Obaan. The release will likely take place in a week’s time, said forest officials.

The larger enclosures consist of nine interlinked compartments spreads across a 5-sqkm area. The separate compartments have been created so that a particular animal can easily be removed should the need arise. The team of Dr Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, from whose centre the animals were brought to India, had suggested that each enclosure should have around 40 animals as prey. The forest officials in Kuno have said they will ensure an optimum prey base, as needed.

The other five cheetahs are Sasha, Siyaya, Savannah, Tbilisi and Asha. Brothers Freddie and Elton have been put up together, as will Savannah and Sasha. The others will be in separate compartments.

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Asha, named by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is suspected to be pregnant, and will be moved only after more clarity on her status. The male cheetahs are aged between 4.5 years and 5.5 years while the five female cheetahs are aged two to five years.

What next

After the cheetahs have been judged well-adapted to the larger enclosures, they will be released into the 748-sqkm Kuno National Park. While the enclosure has a high prey base, it does not have other large predators. In fact, its 11.7-km peripheral fence has electric charge to keep other animals at bay.

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Cheetahs are known to coexist with leopards in Namibia, but the enclosures have been kept free of leopards to make the guest animals feel safe in their new habitat.

Once the cheetahs move to the national park, “they will have to survive with 150-odd leopards,” an official said.

Why Kuno was chosen for the cheetahs

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Six sites, which had been assessed in 2010 for the translocation of the Asiatic Lion, were re-assessed in 2020 —Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve and Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Rajasthan, and Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kuno National Park, Madhav National Park and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
Kuno was found ready to receive the cheetah immediately as it had been prepared for the Asiatic Lion. Both animals share the same habitat – semi-arid grasslands and forests that stretch across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

The upgradation of sites required investment in reducing anthropogenic pressures through relocation of villages, mitigating infrastructure (roadways and railway) and prey augmentation for the cheetah through translocation of blackbuck, chital, chinkara and wild boar, among other animals.

Will any other site in India get the cheetahs?

The ambitious reintroduction project aims to establish a cheetah metapopulation in India nearly 75 years after the last of this animal was killed in 1947. Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952.

Having brought these eight Cheetahs from Namibia, Madhya Pradesh forest officials are now making efforts to accommodate more in Nauradehi forest sanctuary in Sagar and Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in Mandsaur. A proposal has been sent to the state government by forest officials two days ago, seeking permission to make the necessary arrangements.

According to Chauhan, the proposal has been sent as Kuno-Palpur National Park has the carrying capacity of only 25 cheetahs, and the Centre is trying to get another 12 of these animals from South Africa. When those 12 cheetahs are brought in, the total population in Kuno will go up to 20, and once the animals start coupling and babies are born, Kuno-Palpur’s carrying capacity will be exceeded.

First published on: 10-11-2022 at 15:31 IST
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