A year after the Supreme Court stalled its ambitious cheetah re-introduction project, the government moved the court yet again on Wednesday with an assertive petition to let them go ahead with the plan in the interest of wildlife conservation.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), under the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), filed a fresh plea, demanding a reconsideration of the court’s order on April 15, 2013.
By this order, the court had quashed the MoEF’s decision to introduce African cheetahs in Kuno Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, after noting no detailed study had been conducted before introducing a foreign species to India and the designated expert body had also not been consulted. The project initiated by the MoEF in 2010 aimed to bring the cheetah, which became extinct from India’s forests in 1952, back to the country.
Asking for a recall of this order, the NTCA disputed the court’s observations and claimed that wildlife agencies had carried out comprehensive studies and analysis of not only Kuno but other prospective areas where cheetah could be re-introduced.
“It is the only mammalian species to have gone extinct in peninsular India in historial times and bringing it back will have special significance for the national conservation ethic and ethos. Cheetah are likely to present the lowest level of conflict with human interests,” said the petition, while adding that their re-introduction would help conservation of grasslands and open forests in the manner tiger conservation did.
Maintaining that Kuno was found to be most appropriate owing to improved habitat status after relocation of 24 villages, the MoEF cited historical accounts from the Mughal Empire, penned by historian Dr Irfan Habib, to claim that cheetah occupied areas in MP, making it a historial habitat for them.
The government also countered the court’s findings that the proposal was not placed before the National Board for wildlife and further, it was not in conformity with international conventions. It said one of the members of the Board had in fact termed the re-introduction plan as the most exciting venture to happen in the wildlife conservation sector while no other member raised any objection.
The petition opposed court’s observation, pointing out cheetah was not a foreign species. On the issue of its preparedness, the MoEF said that the National Wildlife Action Plan of 2002 did not mention this proposal since the techniques of re-introduction and rehabilitation of carnivores were not adequately developed at that point in time.
“It was only with the success of the reintroduction of the tiger in Sariska, Panna and elsewhere that the confidence of undertaking such endeavours emerged,” said the plea, contending the programme was neither illegal nor arbitrary.
It also assured the court that this shall not be done at the cost of tiger conservation or of any other national park or sanctuary. The MoEF favoured importing cheetah from Southern Africa, saying this region would provide the best genetic stock, having the largest gene pool from which animals for re-introduction can be easily obtained.
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