Ahmedabad/New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the conservation of native wild cat Asiatic Lions a priority over the imported exotic feline African cheetah.
A day after the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) proposed that it intended to go ahead with the cheetah project in the Kuno-Palpur Sancutary in Madhya Pradesh, which has been prepared for the translocation of Gir lions, SC restrained the Centre from going ahead with the Rs300 crore Cheetah Reintroduction Programme. Put in context, this greatly increases the probability of shifting a few of the Asiatic Lions to Kuno-Palpur Sanctuary in the coming months.
The issue of relocating Cheetah from Namibia was raised during the hearing of the matter on relocation of Asiatic Lions from Gir Sanctuary to Kuno Sanctuary in MP. MoEF informed the forest bench comprising justices KS Radhakrishan and CK Prasad on Monday that it intended to go ahead with African cheetah re-introduction from Namibia within the next two months. Kuno was prepared to accommodate a pride of lions a few years back, but when Gujarat refused to part with any lions, MoEF decided to reintroduce African cheetah there last year.
Senior advocate PS Narasimha, the amicus curiae in the lion relocation case, filed an application seeking a stay on the implementation of cheetah project. The court granted the stay and the matter has been scheduled for further hearing in July after the court returns from vacation.
Narasimha said the proposal for reintroduction of Cheetah "has not been either placed before the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, nor has there been a considered decision taken in this regard". He stated in an application that "scientific studies show that the African Cheetahs and Asian Cheetahs are completely different, both genetically and also in their characteristics" and the reintroduction of Cheetah was also against the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines on translocation of wildlife species.
"In fact, the (IUCN) guidelines categorically warn against the introduction of alien or exotic species. The African Cheetah obviously never existed in India. Therefore, it is not case of intentional movement of an organism into a part of its native range," the application stated.
Asiatic Cheetah became extinct in the country in the 1950's. In July 2010, the environment ministry had cleared the proposal to reintroduce African Cheetah to India. The Centre had recently sanctioned first tranche of Rs 1.9 crore to Madhya Pradesh for preparation of the habitat for the animal at Kuno Palpur sanctuary in Sheopur district. Narasimha pointed out that Prerna Bindra, a member of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife has 'categorically opposed the Cheetah project, on rational and logical consideration'.
"She has pointed out that Rs 300 crore have been allocated for the Cheetah project and the cost of each Cheetah is going to be Rs 2 crore whereas the total budget for Project Tiger is a mere Rs 80 crore for 600 national parks and sanctuaries," it said.
He added that the director general forests/special secretary, MoEF PJ Dilip Kumar had a given 'strong note' against introduction of African Cheetah into India but it was ignored and not even mentioned in any of the proceedings dealing with this project.
It said that the introduction of alien or exotic species is universally shunned by wildlife experts and "in fact countries such as South Africa, Australia are spending huge amount of funds to eradicate and remove exotic wildlife species from wilderness areas or wild habitats".
Narasimha also sought a direction the MoEF to produce before the apex court all relevant records and decisions relating to introduction of cheetah. He said the Indian Cheetah in genetic composition is a different animal than the African Cheetah and a different sub species altogether and "therefore one cannot be introduced in place of the other".