3 Cheetah cubs die in 48 hours in Kuno National Park; dept cites extreme heat conditions

Fourth cub of Cheetah Jwala is in serious condition; three adults have also died

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released the first batch of Namibian Cheetahs with much fanfare at KNP on September 17 Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released the first batch of Namibian Cheetahs with much fanfare at KNP on September 17

Three of the four Cheetah cubs born on April 29 to Namibian Cheetah Jwala (earlier called Siyaya) have died in the past 48 years, taking the Cheetah toll in Kuno National Park (KNP) to six.

Two Cheetah cubs died on Thursday while one had perished on Tuesday (May 23) morning, a note by the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), J.S. Chauhan said. 

Three adult Cheetahs—two brought in from South Africa and one from Namibia—had died between March 27 and May 9. Now, the KNP – where 20 Cheetahs were brought to in two phases - has 17 adult Cheetahs and a cub surviving.

The note by PCCF mentioned that May 23 was an extremely hot day in Sheopur, where KNP is situated, with maximum temperatures in the range of 46-47 degrees Celsius, though it was not attributed directly as the cause for the death of Cheetah cubs.

The PCCF further said that all the Cheetah cubs were “weak, were underweight and were found extremely dehydrated”. “According to the Cheetah experts, the survival percentage of Cheetah cubs in Africa is extremely low,” the note said. 

It was further said that extremely hot winds (termed loo in local parlance) blew throughout May 23 and after one of the cubs was found dead, the other three were rescued for necessary medical treatment. “As the condition of two of the cubs was extremely critical, they could not be saved despite best efforts at treatment. One cub has been kept under intensive care at a Palpur (veterinary) hospital in serious condition,” the PCCF said.

The official added that advice is being taken from experts from Namibia and South Africa and the condition of the surviving cub is stable though it is under intensive care. He said that the condition of the mother Cheetah Jwala was normal and she was under constant monitoring. She had been given a supplementary diet on May 23.

Jwala is a ‘hand-reared Cheetah’ who has become a mother for the first time. “The age of the cubs was around 8 weeks and at this age cubs are extremely curious and constantly roam around with the mother. The cubs in KNP had started moving around with the mother eight to ten days ago. Post mortem is being conducted as per protocol, the PCCF note said.

Deaths cast shadow on ambitious project

Deaths of Cheetahs have cast a shadow on the ambitious inter-continental translocation project. Eight Cheetahs were brought from Namibia on September 17 and 12 from South Africa on February 18. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released the first batch of Namibian Cheetahs with much fanfare at KNP on September 17, which was his birthday.

However, the impact of the translocation and the conditions in KNP along with care provided to the Cheetahs is in question as six Cheetahs including the three cubs have perished in two months.

Experts have said that the KNP was not big enough to provide a comfortable home to so many Cheetahs. Cramped space is likely to cause ailments in the Cheetahs who require running long distances to digest their food. PCCF (wildlife) has already written to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the MP forest department to move the Cheetahs to other suitable habitats.

However, no other parks are yet ready to house the Cheetahs. MP Chief secretary Iqbal Singh Bains had directed early completion of arrangements in Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in Mandsaur district in a meeting with Cheetah task force members on May 18. Nauradehi sanctuary in Sagar district has been identified as another possible habitat for the Cheetahs in the state.

Experts have raised questions as to why so many Cheetahs were brought in within a short time when it was known that the KNP habitat was not adequate space wise. 

Sasha, a six-year-old female brought from Namibia along with seven others on September 17, had died on March 27 due to apparent renal infection. On April 23, a male renamed Uday, who was brought  with 11 others from South Africa on February 18, died after being seen staggering in his enclosure. Daksha, brought from South Africa in February this year, died on May 9 apparently due to injuries sustained during violent mating interaction with two adult Cheetahs, also from South Africa. Jwala had meanwhile given birth to four cubs on April 29. 

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