In August 2022, I visited Kuno National Park with Barth Balli. The park is in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India and we were visiting to prepare for the arrival of cheetahs from Namibia for reintroduction. The primary purpose of this visit was to check the preparations and infrastructure in Kuno necessary for the arrival of the cheetahs and their ongoing care while in quarantine and pre-release holding before the reintroduction.
Upon arrival into Kuno, the cheetahs will be held in smaller quarantine enclosures in which they will pass medical quarantine. Following this brief period, the cheetahs will be moved into larger holding enclosures (bomas) in order to acclimate to the new environment and to start learning what prey species are available to hunt before being released into Kuno. Though CCF believes that the cheetahs will be able to adapt to the environment in Kuno without too much trouble, there are differences in the habitat (vegetation structure and prey species available) between India and Namibia and as such the cheetahs will need time to adjust. This holding period pre-release provides the cheetahs a safe environment in which they can start to adjust to the new conditions before being released out into the national park.
During the visit, we worked with the local team in India to inspect the quarantine facility and holding bomas and provided recommendations as to the last steps needed to ensure the facilities were ready for the arrival of the cheetahs. CCF met and discussed with the local team all the necessary considerations for how to care for the animals during quarantine and pre-release holding and discussed logistics for the ongoing, long-term monitoring of the cheetahs once released.
We also had the opportunity to tour the park for assessment of the habitat conditions and to have an idea of what areas of the park the cheetahs may find most suitable. Though there are differences between the habitat provided in Kuno and that found in Namibia, there are many similarities as well with plenty of suitable areas for the cheetahs in which to hunt. For hunting, cheetahs do well in open grasslands as well as in more moderately dense vegetated areas and Kuno provides ample suitable options.
Reintroducing any species is always an extremely difficult task that requires many years of dedicated effort and perseverance in the face of hardship. However, from CCF’s years of research releasing cheetahs back into the wild, we have learned of key actions we can take to help maximise the survival probability of released animals. CCF has worked with India and the Kuno National Park team to share this knowledge so that it can be applied for this reintroduction. Though in the end the success of the effort will depend upon the performance of the individuals reintroduced, CCF is confident that Kuno is as prepared to do everything possible to ensure the project is a success.