The much-publicised Cheetah Reintroduction Project, which aims to restore the population of cheetahs in the country, will formally take off on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday, 17 September.
The first batch of 8 cheetahs-5 females, 3 males- to be translocated from Namibia to India, will be released into the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Cheetah was officially declared extinct in India in 1952. Under the Species Recovery Program of the Government of India, species that become extinct are restored in their historic natural habitat. The big cat species will be reintroduced in India after 70 years since being declared extinct in 1952.
As the mega show is on schedule and a customised jet on Thursday arrived in Namibia to bring cheetahs to India, a debate rages back home between the Madhya Pradesh government and the royal families of the area.
The royal family of Palampur in Sheopur which had given the land and a fort to
the government has been kept out of the scene, neither they are invited nor their names have been attached anywhere with the national park, the royal family members alleged. “The Prime Minister will release the cheetahs, but we have been ignored all along. We have not even invited.”
A court battle with the state government is on. 260 bighas of land and a fort, belonged to the royal family which was handed over to the state government for the sanctuary for the Babbar lions, and not for the cheetas.
Kumar Gopal Dev of the Palampur royal family said, “Kuno was declared a sanctuary to bring the lions of Gir to Gujarat. They had to vacate their fort and 260 bighas of land. The government changed the name of the sanctuary to Kuno National Park.” So the descendants of the Palampur royal family approached the court against the state government to get back their ancestral land.
“We had no other option but to move the court,” said Gopal Dev, adding that he had filed a petition in the sessions court to take back his property. The sessions court will hear the matter on 19 September.
Amid this, the preparation for the mega show is in full swing. While a commercial civil plane will bring Cheetahs from Namibia, the Indian Air Force is ready to deploy its Chinook heavy lift helicopters which will ferry the felines from the Jaipur airport to the Kuno national park.
“The plan at present is that the civilian plane will bring the Cheetahs to Jaipur from where the Indian Air Force’s Chinook helicopters will fly them to the Kuno national park,” government officials said here.
The officials, however, also said they were still considering some airfields which are closer to the national park where they can be brought directly from Namibia.