The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) confirms the mortality of one of the 12 cheetah that were relocated to India in February 2023 as part of an initiative to expand the cheetah meta-population and to reintroduce cheetahs to a former range state.
DFFE awaits a diagnosis (an autopsy) for the death of the cheetah, but there is no indication that it is any form of infectious disease or that there is a similar threat to any of the other cheetahs.
All the South African cheetahs are in larger enclosures and are closely monitored twice daily. As they are wild cheetahs, their behaviour, movements, and body condition must be evaluated from a distance, limiting the ability of teams on the ground to gain precise knowledge of their health status.
Earlier this year, the governments of South Africa and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation on the Re-introduction of Cheetah to India. The MoU facilitates cooperation between the two countries to establish a viable and secure cheetah population in India; promotes conservation and ensures that expertise is shared and exchanged, and capacity built, to promote cheetah conservation. This includes human-wildlife conflict resolution, capture and translocation of wildlife and community participation in conservation in the two countries.
Large carnivore reintroductions are extremely complex and inherently risky operations. This is a critical phase of the project, with cheetahs being released into larger environments where there is increasingly less control over their day-to-day wellbeing. The risks for injury and mortality will be increasing, and these risks are factored into the reintroduction plan.
The remaining eleven South African cheetahs will be released into free-ranging conditions over the next two months. Kuno is an unfenced protected area that supports a high density of competing predators including leopards, wolves, sloth bears, and striped hyenas. It is anticipated that, as observed with cheetah reintroductions in Africa, a few of the founder population may be lost within the first-year post-release. Many of the released cheetahs will escape the boundaries of Kuno National Park and may have to go through short-term stress during the recapture process. Once the cheetahs have established home ranges, the situation will stabilise.
The cheetah joined eight of the mammals relocated to India’s Kuno National Park from Namibia in September 2022. The two cheetah deaths (one from Namibia and one from South Africa) observed to date are within expected mortality rates for a project of this nature.
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