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Project Cheetah and Radio Collar Infections

  • 20 Jul 2023
  • 7 min read

For Prelims: Cheetah Reintroduction Plan, Kuno-Palpur National Park (KNP), Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary

For Mains: Challenges Associated with the Translocation of Cheetah in India

Source: IE

Why in News?

Recently, the use of radio collars in the cheetah reintroduction project in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, India, has resulted in unexpected setbacks, with cheetahs experiencing neck wounds and septicaemia, an infection of the blood by bacteria.

  • This situation has raised concerns among experts familiar with collaring practices in India and Africa.

What are Radio Collars?

  • About:
    • Radio collars are used to track and monitor animals in the wild.
    • They consist of a collar with a small radio transmitter.
    • Collars provide data on animal behavior, migration, and population dynamics.
      • They can be combined with GPS or accelerometers for additional information.
    • Collars are designed to be lightweight and comfortable for animals.
    • Potential risks and challenges, such as injuries or infections, must be managed.
  • Challenges Associated with Radio Collars:
    • Festering Neck Wounds and Septicaemia:
      • Two cheetahs in Kuno died due to suspected septicaemia caused by festering neck wounds from radio collars.
        • Additional cheetahs, including Oban, Elton, and Freddie, have exhibited similar injuries.
      • These setbacks have raised concerns about the use of radio collars in the cheetah reintroduction project.
    • Problems with Long-term Collar Usage:
      • Carrying something on the body for an extended period can have downsides, as seen in studies on watch wearers and pet dogs.
      • Staphylococcus aureus bacteria presence was higher on watch wearers' wrists, which can lead to sepsis or death.
      • Dogs wearing collars can develop acute moist dermatitis or hot spots, aggravated by ticks or fleas.
      • Tight-fitting collars can cause pressure necrosis and rapid hair loss around the neck, similar to bedsores.
    • Weight Considerations:
      • Globally, the general guideline is to keep radio collar weight below 3% of the animal's body weight.
      • Modern collars for wild cats typically weigh around 400g, which is suitable for cheetahs weighing between 20 kg and 60 kg.
        • However, fitting collars on cheetahs can be challenging due to their small necks, especially for younger animals.
    • Vulnerability to Collar-Induced Injuries:
      • Cheetahs' winter coat, which is thicker and furrier than that of tigers or leopards, can retain more water and take longer to dry.
      • In a 2020 study, the collar weight rule was criticized for not considering animal athleticism, revealing that collar forces can surpass the collar's weight during movement.
        • For instance, the forces exerted by collars were found to be generally equivalent to up to five times the collar’s weight for a lion and a staggering 18 times for a cheetah.
      • African Cheetahs may be more susceptible to local pathogens compared to Indian tigers and leopards, potentially due to differences in immunity and environmental conditions.
    • Lack of Adaptation to Monsoon Conditions:
      • Secondary bacterial infections under collars are not commonly reported in African conditions due to drier skin between rain spells.
      • In historical times, cheetahs in India did not wear collars during the monsoon and may have adapted differently to the local climate.
    • Implications for the Reintroduction Project:
      • Tracking, immobilizing, and assessing cheetahs for neck injuries poses challenges and potential delays.
      • The absence of a clear roadmap for the next monsoon raises questions about re-collaring cheetahs and their well-being.

What is Cheetah Reintroduction Project in India?

  • About:
    • The Cheetah Reintroduction Project in India formally commenced on September 17, 2022, with the objective of restoring the population of cheetahs, which were declared extinct in the country in 1952.
    • The project involves the translocation of cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Reintroduction Process:
    • 20 radio-collared cheetahs were translocated from South Africa (12 cheetahs) and Namibia (8 cheetahs) to Kuno National Park.
      • In March 2023, India announced the birth of 4 cubs to one of the eight cheetahs that were relocated from Namibia.
    • The cheetahs underwent a quarantine period and were then shifted to larger acclimatization enclosures.
    • Currently, there are 11 cheetahs in free-ranging condition and 5 animals, including a cub, in quarantine enclosures.
    • Dedicated monitoring teams ensure round-the-clock monitoring of the free-ranging cheetahs.
  • Mortalities:
    • 8 cheetahs have died in Kuno National Park due to natural causes.
    • Preliminary analysis by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) indicates that the deaths were natural and not related to other factors like radio collars.
  • Project Implementation and Challenges:
    • The project is implemented by the NTCA in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), and cheetah experts from Namibia and South Africa.
    • Challenges in the project include monitoring, protection, and management of the reintroduced cheetah population.
  • Conservation Efforts and Measures:
    • Consultation with international cheetah experts and veterinary doctors from South Africa and Namibia is ongoing to investigate the cause of cheetah deaths.
    • Independent national experts are reviewing monitoring protocols, protection status, managerial inputs, veterinary facilities, training, and capacity building.
    • Efforts are underway to establish a Cheetah Research Center, expand forest areas under Kuno National Park's administrative control, provide additional frontline staff, establish a Cheetah Protection Force, and create a second home for cheetahs in Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary.
    • The government is committed to conserving the reintroduced cheetah population and ensuring its long-term success.

UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year Question (PYQ)


Q. Consider the following: (2012)

  1. Black-necked crane
  2. Cheetah
  3. Flying squirrel
  4. Snow leopard

Which of the above are naturally found in India?

(a) 1, 2 and 3 only
(b) 1, 3 and 4 only
(c) 2 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Ans: (b)

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