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What ails the cheetahs in Kuno?

September will mark the first birthday of India’s grand cheetah re-introduction project. There are no indications as yet whether a birthday party will be held for this occasion (with a cake being cut), and top VIPs being invited, probably not because this might hurt the sentiments of the surviving cheetahs who may be grieving the loss of the nine that have died, including three babies, all in just four months. Down In Jungleland (DIJ) managed to interview one of the survivors to discuss the project and the issues relating to the deaths and what the future seems to have in store.

Excerpts:

DIJ: First of all, condolences for your losses. I do hope the surviving little cub is not missing her playmates too much and her mother has gotten over the trauma.Cheetah: Well, there have always been many deaths in cheetah families.In Africa, it’s usually painted wolves, leopards and lions that get after our babies. Here it was heat and dehydration; both avoidable. Haven’t you people heard of air-conditioning and ORS fluids?DIJ: Does that radio collar you are wearing bother you much? Experts say they don’t and that they’ve been used on cheetahs in Africa and tigers and lions in India without a problem.Cheetah: Maybe you and your experts should try them yourselves and make up your minds. They say the optimal weight for a collar is 3 per cent of the animal’s body weight. So, if you weigh 75 kg that would be 2.25 kg around your neck. Put on a collar that heavy and try to sprint after a blackbuck at 120 kmph and see how comfortable it feels.

DIJ: Excuse me…I only weigh about 50 kg, but I get your point. I had a Labrador who refused to wear a collar and tried to eat it. So you think the collar, no matter how soft and comfy, caused irritation, especially in the heat and humidity, which made you scratch, leading to open wounds and maggot- infestation, and then to septicaemia?Cheetah: Lacerations attract flies, flies lay eggs which develop into maggots and the rest, as they say, is history.

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[An uninvited guest suddenly shows up and butts in. Being fair and neutral, DIJ gives it a chance to have its say.]

Maggot: Hey, not so fast dudes, don’t blame us. Of course we thrive on wounds – but we like to go for dead tissue, not living tissue. Did you know that during the two World Wars, nurses in the battlefields found that wounded soldiers with maggot infestations recovered better because we did not let the soldiers’ injuries get gangrenous? Of course, there may have been other evil species of maggots that got into the cheetah’s wounds, but we know nothing about those.DIJ: Thank you for that input. Yes, and we all know that flies vomit all over their food before slurping it up, possibly leaving germs behind… Now, the authorities are claiming that the deaths were due to natural causes. Doyou cheetahs agree?Cheetah: Every death has a natural cause! The heart stops, the brain stops functioning, the blood gets poisoned, traumatic injuries cause shock and death…DIJ: So overall how has the transition been?Cheetah: Traumatic. First, we’re taken away from our lovely open homes with wide horizons and food on the hoof, flown thousands of kilometres away, caged, tranquilised, let into enclosures in a place whose climateand environment we are unfamiliar with. Then we’re ‘set free’ and then caught again and set free again. At this rate, we’ll have to report for weekly medical tests. How would you like to have a colonoscopy once aweek?

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DIJ: India used to have Asian cheetahs. You are African cheetahs. Maybe you are more prone to infections in India. After all, even the goras who come here get the runs when they first arrive…Cheetah: Are you suggesting that we are in any way inferior to Asian cheetahs? If so, please remember we’re still around: your precious Asian cheetahs are down to 12, in Iranian zoos. So sit on that! But maybe providing us with bottled mineral water from the Himalayan springs would be a good idea…DIJ: Maybe you just need a longer time to adjust to the conditions here.Cheetah: In the long run, we’ll all be dead. And here we are dying in the short run!DIJ: Well, cheetahs are known to be the most delicate and effete of all the big cats.Cheetah: We’re also the fastest and sleekest. Our speed thrills and kills! We believe in open chases, not sly ambushes and gang takedowns.DIJ: Ah, but you do gang up in brotherhoods and sisterhoods to take down large prey. Coalitions, they’re called.Cheetah: Nothing on the scale that those poseurs the lions do! Twenty lions pulling down a poor baby elephant or buffalo calf. What’s so heroic about that?DIJ: You know, Kuno was originally slated for lion relocation. But now you’re here. Don’t you feel privileged? You’ve stolen their thunder.Cheetah: Nonsense. You didn’t bring lions here because of the petty parochial egos of your leaders. And you talk a lot about ‘make in India’ and what do you do? Import us! And why have you disregarded the opinions of so many experts?DIJ: In India, experts who agree with the government are always right. Those that do not are always wrong, even if they are right. Period.Cheetah: Does that mean they’ll say that my poor dead colleagues are not really dead?DIJ: They’re probably working on it. Anyway, happy birthday to the project, dead or alive.

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