The success of Project Cheetah, an ambitious initiative to reintroduce cheetahs into their historic habitat in India, is facing critical concerns as some experts believe that the ‘winter coat’ grown by Southern African cheetahs in anticipation of the cold season there is causing trouble in the warm and moist Indian monsoon.

June to August are the winter months in South Africa, and monsoon in India.
Adrian Tordiffe, a veterinary expert from South Africa, said, “I think the winter coat, plus the constant wet and humid conditions at the moment, and the high parasite load all play a role. The (radio) collars then make it worse in some cases. However, some cheetahs had no lesions at all, so those individuals seem to have some inherent resistance. I expect that they will all have adapted to the conditions in India by next year when the monsoon season starts again.”

Rajesh Gopal, head of the cheetah steering committee, added, “Perhaps the circadian rhythm in cheetahs brought from elsewhere needs to get adjusted. We need to consider the landscape epidemiology as well both in the sourcing area and the destination for introduction.”

Recent weather reports indicate that monsoon hit Kuno National Park in June, with particularly heavy rain recorded over the past month. The park typically experiences approximately 160mm of rain from June 15 to July 15 but this year, that figure doubled to 321mm rainfall.

The cheetahs have been treated with long-acting antiparasitic treatment (Fluralaner) to protect them for the remainder of the monsoon. Kuno veterinarians, along with Dr. Mike Toft, cleaned up the wounds and treated them.

An officer said, “These treatments have to be repeated every monsoon until the cheetahs develop a sufficient level of immunity.”
Addressing the need for further genetic and demographic supplementation from Africa, another officer said, “It is being said that the relocation of at least 50 more founder cheetahs from the South African metapopulation over the next decade will be required before the Indian population stabilises. Thereafter, further swaps between the Southern African and Indian metapopulations will be required to ensure genetic and demographic viability in the long term.”

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