Three weeks after its radio collar stopped working, the last free-ranging cheetah at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh has finally been tracked by wildlife authorities.
Nirva, the female South African cheetah, was captured around 10 am Sunday in the Dhoret range of Kuno National Park, bringing to an end a massive exercise undertaken by officials who, alarmed by the death in July of two male cheetahs due to maggot infection linked to radio collars, had been tranquilising the cheetahs, removing radio collars and returning them to their enclosures.
Chief Wildlife Warden Aseem Shrivastava said all “15 cheetahs (7 males, 7 females and 1 female cub) in Kuno National Park are now in bomas (enclosures) and healthy and are being continuously monitored on health parameters by the Kuno Veterinary Team.”
The Centre has tasked a 11-member expert committee with monitoring the health of the surviving cheetahs who are expected to remain in their enclosures and wait out the monsoon season.
As wildlife officials raced against time this past month, a female cheetah, Dhatri (Tiblisi) was found dead on August 2. To add to their worries, Nirva’s radio collar had gone silent due to technical difficulties. Left in the dark, wildlife officials relied on traditional methods to track down the last free-ranging cheetah.
“The search for Nirva was going on for the last 22 days when her collar stopped functioning on 21st July. Huge efforts were made to search for her,” Shrivastava said.
Wildlife officials mobilised more than 100 field staff which included officers, vets and cheetah trackers, including experts from Namibia, for the task who scoured 20 sq km of the Kuno landscape on a daily basis.
These teams were equipped with two drone teams, dog squads and elephants who helped in the combing operations, officials said.
“Along with this, villagers were informed about Nirva. Any information received from villagers was immediately checked and verified,” Shrivastava said.
Officials used to get rare sightings of Nirva, but they could not get the window to dart the feline since it was “skittish and completely avoided human contact”.
On August 12, the satellite location of Nirva was suddenly relayed to the team as its radio collar burst back to life momentarily, raising hopes.
A few more locations were also received the same day. Immediately, search teams were sent to the spot. With the help of a drone team and a dog squad, the team could finally see Nirva in the evening but could not capture her,” Shrivastava said.
Officials said that Nirva looked healthy. They decided to resume the operation on Sunday since it was getting dark.
The drone team worked overnight to ensure Nirva didn’t give them the slip. Around 4 am, the team triangulated her position and gave the wildlife officials its exact location. But it still took 6 hours to successfully dart Nirva, which was then brought back to its enclosure.
“It took nearly 6 hours before Nirva could be captured. A well-coordinated effort of the drone team, dog squad, elephants, field officers and staff and vets, led by senior officers of the National Park, culminated in the successful capture of Nirva. Nirva is healthy and has been kept inside a boma for further health check-up,” the warden said.
Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 animals were relocated from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno National Park in two batches – the first in September last year and the second in February this year.
On August 7, the Supreme Court said it had “no reason to disbelieve” the Centre on efforts being undertaken to stop the deaths of cheetahs, but remarked that the death of six out of 20 cheetahs brought into the country, and three of four cubs born in India, is “not low”.