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Trackers refuse to be butchers for Kuno Cheetahs; move on strike, approach CM | India News



BHOPAL: A tense situation has arisen at Kuno National Park (KNP) in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh as around 30 villagers, hired to monitor and track cheetahs round-the-clock, have stopped work. The reason for the strike? Their refusal to butcher animals for feeding the big cats within the special enclosures known as soft release bomas (SRBs).
Primarily from the Yadav and Gurjar communities, these villagers were recruited for their knowledge of the park’s terrain.However, their religious beliefs clash with the assigned duty of slaughtering goats and buffaloes for the cheetahs. They have vehemently rejected this task and reportedly even refused training offered by the park authorities for the same.
This unexpected strike has thrown a wrench into the cheetah tracking program. Park officials are scrambling for alternate solutions, considering outsourcing procurement of pre-cut meat from licensed vendors through tenders. They downplay the immediate impact, assuring that most cheetahs are currently within the secure bomas and can be monitored by existing staff. To facilitate closer monitoring and potentially foster a level of trust, each tracker is assigned a specific cheetah to observe its behaviour within the enclosure. This includes monitoring feeding times, ensuring the cheetah’s well-being, and providing enrichment activities where appropriate. While forming close bonds with wild animals is challenging, familiarity can aid in cheetah acclimation and data collection, say sources.
“The trackers stopped working and came to Kuno four days ago. They went straight to the Chief Minister’s office instead of raising the issue with park or wildlife headquarters first. Currently, most cheetahs are within the secure enclosures and our existing staff can manage them. The villagers’ absence won’t significantly impact cheetah tracking and monitoring,” an officer told TOI. Trackers are paid around Rs 9000 a month and they work in shifts.
Undeterred, the villagers remain resolute in their demands. Their representatives, who approached the Chief Minister Dr Mohan Yadav’s office for intervention, have highlighted two key points: Insurance Coverage and Exemption from Slaughtering Duties. They couldn’t meet the CM but were able to submit their pleas before his OSD – S K Tiwari, who further inquired about the matter from concerned officers.
“We’re on strike and haven’t heard back from park officials. Our demands are clear: we can’t participate in the animal preparation for cheetah feeding,” a tracker said.
They seek comprehensive insurance to be protected against any hazards associated with their work in the park, including encounters with wild animals or injuries sustained during tracking activities and their primary objection is the requirement to kill and butcher animals for cheetah feeding. Citing religious beliefs against animal slaughter, they have refused to compromise on this issue, say sources.
The villagers have made it clear they will not return to work until their demands are met. This incident lays bare a potential conflict between cultural beliefs and wildlife conservation efforts. Kuno National Park, known for its recent introduction of cheetahs, now faces the challenge of balancing animal welfare with the religious sentiments of its hired workforce. Finding a solution that addresses both concerns is crucial to ensure the smooth functioning of the cheetah monitoring program.
The already strained situation at Kuno National Park is often compounded by the continued adventures of cheetahs venturing outside the protected area. The female cheetah Veera had strayed from the park boundaries, venturing further than ever before. It reached Baghwala village, located near the Gwalior-Morena border, a significant distance from the park’s core area. That was the first instance of a cheetah venturing so close to a major city. The trackers and officers had spent sleepless nights trying to get it back. Veera isn’t the only cheetah exhibiting a penchant for exploration. Another cheetah, Pawan, had also been known to wander outside the park’s confines. Just recently, Pawan was retrieved from Karoli in Rajasthan.
The trackers have faced conflict situations in the region. In one of the recent incidents, the trackers tasked with locating a cheetah that moved out of the park was attacked by villagers in Burakheda village of Morena. The villagers, mistaking the team for cattle thieves due to their nighttime presence and clothing, opened fire and launched a physical attack. No serious injuries were reported.
Kuno is experiencing a mix of triumphs and challenges in its ambitious cheetah reintroduction project since the first lot was translocated from Namibia in Sep 2022 and released into enclosures by PM Narendra Modi. However, a significant milestone had recently been achieved with cheetah Gamini giving birth to five cubs, bringing the total number of Indian-born cheetahs to 13. It was the fourth litter born in India and the first by a South African cheetah. Kuno is now home to 26 cheetahs, with half being cubs.
This is a positive sign for the project’s progress. Prior to Gamini’s cubs, Namibia’s Jwala had successfully delivered three cubs in her second litter, following the loss of one from her first litter of four.
Additionally, cheetah Aasha had previously contributed three cubs to the growing Kuno population. Since the initial translocation of cheetahs from Namibia in September 2022, ten cheetahs have died. Harsh summer temperatures reaching 46-47 degrees Celsius resulted in the loss of three cubs born to Jwala in May 2023.
The growing cheetah population may necessitate the exploration of alternative habitats like the Gandhisagar sanctuary. German researchers have expressed concerns regarding Kuno’s cheetah carrying capacity. Determining this will require further study as the cheetahs establish their home ranges.





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