Infighting, infrastructure niggles at Kuno ahead of cheetahs’ big shift | India News

BHOPAL: With only a few days left for shifting all eight cheetahs into larger holding enclosures (bomas), alleged ‘infighting’ in the core team involved in Prime Narendra Modi’s ambitious project and lack of arrangements seem to have emerged as major concerns.
Experts are of the opinion that no release date should be discussed until all points of contention have been sorted out for good of our cheetahs and the project.
Sources say WII scientist YS Jhala, who played a key role in the project, may go on leave and the issue has not been sorted yet. It’s apparently being taken up with the Prime Minister for redressal since Jhala plays a crucial part for this project to be a success.
According to the schedule, cheetahs will be shifted on October 17 so that they better acclimatize to their new environment and start the prey base to begin hunting, said officers. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) will send experts to assist the MP forest department.
‘Need better network at forest guard’s rest house to track cheetahs in real time’
Their team has raised some issues to be resolved before they are shifted to the bigger bomas. Officers have to go through a very long checklist before considering moving the cheetahs to the bomas.
Some parts of the internal fence are less than 2m high and need to be reinforced, while some parts are loose, say sources. “If the cheetah jumps on it, it will bend and the cheetah can go over it,” said Eli Waker, CCF conservation biologist and cheetah specialist. “They also need to place rocks all along the fence to avoid bridges under it that can be dug by boars. Only a small portion of the 11km internal fence has been electrified so far, and the majority of it remains to be completed,” said Waker.
The division of one boma is pending. Boma-5, where Sasha, Savannah and Siyaya, are to be released, has very dense and high vegetation. Cheetahs won’t be able to hunt in this boma currently, until the work is done, sources say.
There is also an open well in Boma-5 that poses a safety risk, and it should be filled to make sure cheetahs don’t fall into it while hunting. Supply for the water points in the bomas is yet to be sorted out. Officers also want the network to be improved at the forest guard’s rest house to be able to access GPS data and monitor cheetahs in real time, post-release.
“The time the cheetahs spend in the bomas before being released into the national park depends on how they react to the staff who will be tracking them. We can now bring our vehicle around all eight cats without a problem.
Team members need to be able to approach the cheetahs in case they are hungry or break out. For this reason, we cannot say exactly how long the cats will stay in the boma before going into the park,” said Barthélémy Balli, CCF Conservation Release Programme Manager. The cheetah monitoring team at Kuno also needs special tracking equipment and a proper meat storage facility, especially for when more cheetahs arrive. The current solar array powering the refrigeration unit is not strong enough to keep meat cold on cloudy days. Concerns have been raised regarding the construction of the new quarantine enclosures for the South African cheetahs.
They are being built without the proper configuration, say sources. “Stocking of prey in the bomas will need to take place before the eight Namibian cheetahs are moved. We anticipate that at least 200 spotted deer will be placed in the bomas before the release,” said Balli, adding: “We believe our plan for transferring cheetahs from the quarantine pens to bomas, and to the park, without darting the animals, is carefully thought out and will lead to the best results.” Sources say all eight cheetahs are doing well and eating properly.

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