Eight leopards will be brought to India from Namibia in August, 70 years after the local population was officially declared extinct. They will be released in Kuno-Balpur National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
In the past, cheetahs were abundant not only in Africa, but also in parts of Asia, from the Arabian Peninsula to Afghanistan, with subspecies of Asiatic cheetahs. Asinonyx jubatus venaticus According to scientific nomenclature. Today there are very few in Iran: in the seventies there were about 300, now, according to the latest official Iranian count, there are only 12.
The species has practically disappeared due to the reduction of its habitat due to human activities, lack of food due to the general reduction of wild animal populations and hunting: during the British rule in India, they were killed to prevent uprooting. cattle. Leopards have been absent from the country since at least 1952: several attempts have been made to reintroduce them since then without success.
It took two years to organize the return of leopards to Kuno-Balpur, after India’s Supreme Court ruled that the species could be reintroduced in 2020 if the effort is conducted in a “carefully selected area”. Namibia was asked why this southern African country has the largest wild population of leopards (the other states with the highest numbers are South Africa and Botswana).
The species is considered “vulnerable” to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international body recognized by the UN that assesses which animal and plant species are at risk of extinction. There must be about seven thousand of them in the wild around the world. In 2017, a reintroduction project began in Malawi in Southeast Africa, where cheetahs became extinct in the late 1980s: from four animals brought into the country, a small population grew to 24 animals in 2021.
Leopards are animals that can live in different natural environments, sandy deserts, savannahs and mountains, and can withstand very different temperatures from 45°C to -15°C. However, due to a lack of prey, they may use them to kill them if they find them competing with other large predators such as lions and hyenas in Africa, or if they are forced to approach livestock, they may find themselves in trouble. : In that case conflicts may arise with human societies, which also happens with other species of hunter-gatherers in the world.
For this reason leopards are better off living in fenced nature parks. He had explained BBC Biologist Vincent van der Merwe, a scholar of cheetah populations in South Africa: “Where there are no fences, cheetah numbers decline due to habitat reduction and retaliatory killings by breeders”.
According to van der Merwe, reintroduction to India could be problematic because most protected natural areas are not fenced. This is the case of Kuno-Balpur Park, however, chosen for its size: according to Indian biologists, leopards need an area of at least 5 thousand square kilometers. The problem is that India has large uninhabited areas and what remains is shrinking.
Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, he said The reintroduction of leopards in India has a broader objective of “re-establishing ecological function in Indian grasslands lost with the extinction of Asiatic leopards” and argued that the animals’ presence would favor ecotourism. For Indian politics, the return of castes has a symbolic value as it coincides with the celebrations of the 75th year of independence from the United Kingdom.
If all goes according to plan, more leopards will be introduced to India in the next few years: at least twenty leopards will be needed to have enough genetic variation for the new population to thrive.
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