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Another Female Cheetah Dies at Kuno, Ninth Death Since March

Six of the 20 cheetahs translocated from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno since September last have died so far due to various reasons.

ONE MORE adult cheetah, which was brought from Namibia in September last year, has died at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. With this, six adult cheetahs — all relocated from Namibia and South Africa — and three cubs born in India have died since March this year.

“Today morning, one of the female cheetahs, Dhatri, was found dead. A post-mortem is being conducted to determine the cause of the death,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Aseem Shrivastava said.

Dhatri was one of the two remaining female cheetahs which were still out in the wild as wildlife officials, comprising Kuno veterinarians and Namibian cheetah experts, tried to track them down.

Asked whether the death was due to possible infection linked to radio collars, Shrivastav said a post-mortem would confirm the cause. Dhatri was born at the Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia in April 2020.

Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 animals were relocated from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno National Park in two batches — the first in September last year and the second in February this year.

On March 27, a Namibian cheetah named Sasha died due to kidney complications. Sasha was suspected to have contracted the ailment during captivity in Namibia and had been unwell since arriving at Kuno.

Another cheetah, Uday, fell ill and died on April 13. On May 9, a female cheetah, Daksha, brought from South Africa, died after a “violent interaction” with two male cheetahs during mating. The same month, three of the four cubs born to a female Namibian cheetah also died.

This was followed by the deaths of two male cheetahs, Tajas and Suraj, on July 11 and July 14 respectively, following multiple organ failure. Since both had neck injuries, experts suggested that the deaths may be linked to possible infection caused by radio collars. An exercise was then carried out to remove the radio collars.

Following the deaths, while all other cheetahs were brought back to their enclosures for examination, wildlife officials had been trying to track down Dhatri and Nirva.

“We did spot Dhatri on multiple occasions, but there is a short window of time to dart the animal. Unfortunately, we could not dart her successfully,” Shrivastav said.

Officials said Nirva’s radio collar has been silent, adding to their difficulties. They have resorted to traditional methods like tracking its pugmarks.

“All the 14 cheetahs (7 males, 6 females, 1 female cub) kept in bomas (enclosures) at the Kuno National Park are healthy, and are being regularly monitored by the team comprising Kuno wildlife veterinarians and the Namibian expert,” said Shrivastav.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, a former environment minister, tweeted: “Something has really gone wrong at Kuno. The ninth cheetah death took place this morning. The argument that all these deaths are expected mortality is complete nonsense and has been debunked by international cheetah experts. This is what happens when science and transparency take a backseat. This is what happens when one man’s vanity and desperate need for self-glory takes over.”

As reported by The Indian Express, South African and Namibian experts, all members of the national cheetah project steering committee, have written to the Supreme Court expressing their anguish over being kept in the dark and raising “serious concerns” over the project’s management.

They have said that some of the cheetah deaths “could have been prevented by better monitoring of the animals and more appropriate” and timely “veterinary care” — had the experts been brought into the picture rather than being “ignored” and used as mere “window-dressing”.