Death of 3 baby cheetahs in India is a blow to reintroduction efforts
Three baby cheetahs have died in India this week, causing another setback to a historic government effort to reintroduce the species to the country after 70 years of extinction.
The cubs were part of a litter of four born in late March to a cheetah named Siyaya, who was one of eight rehabilitated cheetahs brought from Namibia to India’s Kuno National Park in central Madhya Pradesh state in September from last year.
The first cub died on Tuesday morning, JS Chauhan, chief conservator of the forest department of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, said in an interview with local media. Over the next two days, two more cubs succumbed to “heat, dehydration and weakness,” forest department officials said.
The fourth cub was also rescued and taken to a local hospital for monitoring, Chauhan said.
“His condition wasn’t great either, but after the treatment the cub is looking much better, although he is underweight and a bit weak. The mother and her remaining cub continue to be under observation,” he added.
The government did not give a cause of death, but the day they died was one of the hottest of the season, with temperatures reaching 46 to 47 degrees Celsius (114 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit).
The latest deaths bring the number of cheetahs that have died since their reintroduction to India to six.
Siyaya gave birth to the cubs more than 70 years after cheetahs were declared extinct in India. It took a multi-stage journey to take her and seven other cats from Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, to central India.
Twelve more cheetahs arrived from South Africa in February.
But since then, three adult cheetahs have died. A South African cheetah died while attempting courtship and mating, a Namibian cheetah died of kidney disease, and a South African cheetah died of heart failure.
Cub mortality is high both in the wild and in captivity, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo. On average, 30% of all cubs born in human care die within a month of birth, and in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, about 90% die before they reach three months of age, according to the zoo. .
Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952 and are the only large carnivore in the country to have suffered this fate.
Today, spotted cats are most common in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, and Namibia and Botswana in southern Africa, according to the National Zoo. But historically, endangered cats had a much wider range, roaming throughout the Middle East and central India as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa.
Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans have drastically reduced their populations. Cheetahs are now only found in 9% of their historic range, with fewer than 7,100 adult and adolescent cheetahs in the wild, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund.