New Delhi; Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is moving fast on his promise to bring back the cheetah to India. Three sites have been identified - two in Madhya Pradesh and one in Rajasthan as special sanctuaries for the animal that went extinct from India in the 60s.
Cheetah, the fastest animal on land had vanished from the subcontinent in 1967. Now, determined to bring back the cheetah, the environment ministry has unveiled an ambitious plan
"Three sites have been identified - two sites in Madhya Pradesh and one in Rajasthan. We will take it forward and it will take three to four years before these sites are made completely fit. I would give this the same importance as I would give project tiger or project elephant," said Jairam Ramesh.
The environment ministry plans to release cheetahs brought from Africa in Kuno - Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, Nauradehi Wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and the Shahgarh sanctuary in Rajasthan.
However, Rs 300 crore will be spent to relocate villages and to prepare these habitats so that they can sustain a viable population of 40 cheetahs. But, given India's poor track record in protecting its existing wildlife; especially tigers the question arises that is this really a good idea?
"I believe it is very complicated because cheetah is a very fragile, precious predator. You have to look after it very well. It has to have lot of grasslands and prey species, "said a tiger expert Valmik Thapar.
"The idea of reintroducing an extinct species in this case can help revive very serious interest in the protection of grasslands. In the 19th century -- a fifth of India had grasslands and much of it is lost now," said an environmentalist Mahesh Rangarajan.
Moreover, if the state governments agree to the plan, six cheetahs will be introduced in each location. But cheetahs require large tracts of land to roam freely. With a booming human population encroaching more and more into wildlife habitats, it seems that these cheetahs could feel hemmed in.