“Cheetahs Have Returned To India After 70 Years”. In this light, What Are The Perceived Benefits of Reintroducing Cheetahs in India ?

  • Extinction is an elemental truth that governs all life forms on this planet, however, the Anthropocene has caused the disappearance of life from Earth at unprecedented rates.
 African CheetahAsiatic Cheetah
IUCN statusVulnerableCritically endangered
DistributionAround 6,500-7,000 African cheetahs are present in the wild.They are only 40-50 and found only in Iran.The Asiatic Cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952.
CharacteristicsBigger in size as compared to Asiatic Cheetah.Smaller and paler than the African cheetah.

Vulnerability of Carnivores to extinction:

  • Carnivores as a group are particularly vulnerable to extinction events in the Anthropocene because members of this highly charismatic taxa are at direct odds with human interests — they need large chunks of habitats to live and breed, they eat the same food as man does, they are fond of the livestock and pets as food, and they are often worth more dead than alive.
  • Man has strategically hunted, persecuted, and removed entire populations of carnivores from different parts of the world — the Red and Ethiopian wolves now persist only in ~2 percent of their historic range, African wild dogs in 10 percent of their ancestral homelands, while lions, tigers, and cheetahs have been removed from nearly 80 percent of their historic habitats, with local extinctions of many representative populations.

Impact of reintroduction of carnivores:

  • Vital for ecosystem services:
    • Carnivores are fundamentally important for the balanced functioning of their ecosystems, thereby safeguarding ecological integrity and promoting human well-being by rendering vital ecosystem services.
  • Revival of the ecosystem:
    • The reintroduction of cheetah will bring the ecosystems onto a path of revival through direct and indirect trophic interactions.
  • Increased tourism:
    • The re-wilding of these landscapes with their predators has provided countless tourists with the joy of seeing such charismatic species roam in their natural habitats — thereby generating goodwill and revenue for conservation and associated communities.
  • Human-animal conflicts:
    • Bringing a carnivore back into a system where the landscape is shared with humans can be a dangerous mission as it will increase the incidents of human-animal conflicts.
    • The efforts to bring back African wild dogs in parts of Africa were not followed by direct ecosystem benefits while reintroducing brown bears in the Pyrenees mountains of Europe increased human-bear conflict.

India’s carnivore guild:

  • India has been fortunate to have retained an almost intact carnivore guild, a feat unthinkable and extremely surprising for a country with over 1.3 billion people and one of the fastest growing economies.
  • The socio-political and religious sentiments coupled with the legal commitments of India towards life are the major drivers of this resilience.
  • However, India has lost one of its most charismatic carnivores — the Asiatic cheetah, considered to have gone locally extinct in 1952 owing to hunting, habitat loss, and massive capture and use in shikar entourages.
  • The Asiatic cheetahs in India were one of the apex predators of grasslands and open natural ecosystems (ONEs), having coevolved with the blackbuck and chinkara.
  • Currently, only ~30 wild Asiatic cheetahs remain in a small pocket of Iran, with an ever-contentious future.

Significance of the present “conservation introduction” project:

  • The present “conservation introduction” project to bring back the cheetah in India proposes:
    • To re-instil the evolutionary potential of open natural ecosystems (ONEs)
    • Enhance the “charismatic” value of grasslands and savannahs which have traditionally been neglected and dubbed as “wastelands” in Indian forest management
    • To safeguard relatively lesser-known species-habitat systems such as in Kuno, Gandhisagar, Jawahar Sagar, Nauradehi, Madhav, and Sitamata across Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
  • While many believe that moving cheetahs to Kuno might prevent the eventual reintroduction of lions in the landscape.

Charismatic species

  • Charismatic species are usually defined as “popular, charismatic species that serve as symbols and rallying points to stimulate conservation awareness and action.”
  • Charisma isn’t just the positive connection between people and wildlife: it can also include any animal that sparks our attention, curiosity, or fear.
  • Because of their popularity, efforts to save these charismatic megafauna species and their habitats will indirectly save a number of other, less well-known species. This desired outcome is commonly referred to as the “umbrella effect.”

The idea of “charismatic” species to promote conservation:

  • The public sentiment for certain species strongly bolsters ecosystem revivals.
  • India is a strong example in this regard; intense protection and management of habitats have been undertaken with tigers and lions at the forefront.
  • Tiger and lion habitats have received generous political, economic, and scientific heavy lifting leading to their glorious comebacks and creating safe havens for many relatively less known species.
  • India has perfected the science of reintroducing charismatic carnivores such as the tiger in areas where they went locally extinct.
  • Ideologically and scientifically, the charismatic species approach may have multiple pitfalls; however, it often provides a pragmatic solution to the challenges of converting political will towards conservation.

Resolving human-wildlife conflicts:

  • Bringing a carnivore back into a system where the landscape is shared with humans can be a dangerous mission, but conservation history has shown us that it is doable with the perfect mix of science and outreach.
  • India has been quite successful in resolving human-wildlife conflicts with dedicated efforts to mitigate losses to human- life and property and reducing the chances of negative emotions wreaking havoc on both ends.


  • Having had a history of compassionate and active conservation, India can lead by example to accomplish this outstanding feat of housing yet another carnivore in its habitats, the one it has lost!
  • Indian conservation commitments towards the tiger, lion, elephant and snow leopard should restore faith in the minds of a currently divided conservation and scientific fraternity who are debating whether bringing cheetahs from Africa is needed or is just a “vanity project”.


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