The South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) have responded to the recent deaths of two cheetahs in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park, stating that they are within the expected mortality rates for a project of this nature. The two cheetahs, one from South Africa and one from Namibia were among eight mammals relocated to the park from Namibia in September 2022 as part of an initiative to expand the cheetah meta-population and reintroduce cheetahs to a former range state.
The DFFE acknowledged that large carnivore reintroductions are complex and inherently risky operations. The current phase of the project involves releasing cheetahs into larger environments, where there is increasingly less control over their day-to-day well-being. The risks for injury and mortality will be increasing, and these risks are factored into the reintroduction plan.
The DFFE is waiting for a diagnosis from 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. However, as wild cheetahs, their behavior, 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.
The remaining eleven South African cheetahs will be released into free-ranging conditions over the next two months. Kuno National Park is an unfenced protected area that supports a high density of competing predators, including leopards, wolves, sloth bears, and striped hyenas. The DFFE anticipates 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 stabilize.
The recent deaths of Uday, a six-year-old cheetah brought to India from South Africa, and Sasha, a five-year-old cheetah brought to India from Namibia, have highlighted the challenges and risks associated with large carnivore reintroductions. Sasha died from kidney failure after being diagnosed with a kidney infection in January.
The South African and Indian governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) earlier this year on Cooperation on the reintroduction of Cheetahs to India, reflecting the importance of conservation efforts to protect endangered species.