More than 1,000 dogs have been given anti-rabies vaccine doses around Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where cheetahs are being brought from Africa next week as part of India’s ambitious project to reintroduce these fastest land animals, an official said.
The move is aimed at protecting the cheetahs from rabies, he said. Eight cheetahs – five males and three females – are expected to reach KNP from Namibia on August 17. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the cheetah reintroduction programme on that day, which is also the PM’s birthday, MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said earlier this week.
”More than 1,000 stray and domestic dogs in villages located in the five km periphery of KNP have been given anti-rabies shots in an attempt to ensure that the wild animals, including cheetahs, stay safe in the sanctuary,” KNP’s Divisional Forest Officer P K Verma told PTI.
He, however, denied that the dogs are being vaccinated because cheetahs may prey on them.
The forest official admitted that this was the first time that the park officials went on a massive anti-rabies vaccination drive. ”Usually, a leopard kills an animal and after devouring a portion of the carcass it leaves the remaining part only to return to eat the leftovers later after feeling hungry. In the mean time, if a rabid dog eats that leopard prey’s leftover, the big cat is bound to catch rabies and spread it among other wild animals in the forest,” Verma said.
Notably, in September 2013, a rabid dog had bitten the tail of a three-year-old tiger in Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) in the state. The tiger coded P-212 was later given an anti-rabies injection by the forest department to save the wild animals, especially the big cats.
”In case a rabid canine bites cattle around the jungle and if it is preyed on by any of the cheetahs that are coming to the park, these animals can get infected. And this may cause infection among other cheetahs,” he said.
Verma said that the drive to give anti-rabies vaccine to dogs which started in April is almost over.
”We have vaccinated the dogs against other diseases too,” he added.
The practice of giving injections to the cattle around the park for a long time he said, adding that for the first time they have focused on dogs in order to protect cheetahs.
India has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Namibia for importing cheetahs. Some cheetahs are also proposed to be brought from South Africa. But that country’s president has not signed an MoU signaling that that country might be having some issues, official sources said.
The last cheetah died in the country in 1947 in the Korea district in present day Chhattisgarh, which was earlier part of Madhya Pradesh, and the species was declared extinct in 1952.
The ‘African Cheetah Introduction Project in India’ was conceived in 2009 and a plan to introduce the big cat by November last year in KNP suffered a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said. The KNP has a good prey base for cheetahs. Experts from the Wildlife Institute of India have also seconded the area, an official said.
Madhya Pradesh had a good translocation record as tigers were successfully reintroduced in Panna in 2009, he said.
Ajay Dubey, wildlife expert and founder of Prayat, said, ”Cheetahs have become extinct due to widespread poaching. The last three cheetahs were killed by the King of Korea in the forests that are now the area of Ghasidas National Park.”