Consequences of centuries of blatant loot by East India Company and later British Raj proves this – from global leader in manufacturing and exports commanding around 23 percent of the global economy at the beginning of the eighteenth century India was relegated to the source of raw material and cheap labour with heavy trade deficit.
But then, long overexposure to foreign commodities, institutions and ideas has adversely affected our psychology.
Mesmerised by foreign
So we Indians have been and are in the habit of not yielding to the old proverb that, “A known devil is better than an unknown or strange angel“. We therefore habitually appreciate, welcome and accept everything that is exotic and comes from outside, preferably a foreign land – be it a product, idea, consultant and for that matter an animal, cheetah – not thinking even once that our neglect alone drove it to extinction.
It is real and being practiced blatantly all around us – in every single sphere of our life.
Keeping eyes open, you can experience this in all fields – be it science, craftsmanship, manufacturing or art – you would come across numerous examples wherein ones with knowledge, understanding and expertise of local ground realities are being pushed to extinction and those excelling in repackaging and marketing are being praised, promoted, cherished and held in high esteem.
So, in times to come we might once again be preparing grandiose plans to reintroduce all these native species from diverse foreign lands.
Though not new and dating back to mid-1950s, the reintroduction plan of the cheetahs to Indian landscape could materialise only in 2022 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when on 17 September 2022 he released two of the first eight brought in from Namibia. And by the turn of the year the count has gone up to twenty with twelve more brought in from South Africa having been added to the lot on 18 February 2023.
Athletic body with narrow waist and deep chest, speed, flexibility and agility – what more on earth would anyone ever aspire for? These attributes have always fascinated humans. Cheetahs however have all these qualities and moreover, with a number of television networks around, scenes of cheetahs chasing impala in the wilderness of African savanna have mesmerised us all.
Initiated in the 1970s, negotiations for translocation of cheetahs with Iran could not materialise due to political instability. Then there were offers from Kenya as early as 1980s. The final plans to introduce African cheetahs were formalised later in 2009 but these were disallowed by the Supreme Court that reversed its decision in early 2020, allowing the import of a small number, on an experimental basis and for testing long-term adaptation.
Cheetah: Gifted with speed
Powered by flexible spine, semi-retractable claws, long legs and tail – cheetah is uniquely crafted for speed and acceleration. It can attain speeds greater than 110 km per hour in just over three seconds – acceleration at par, if not better than most machines ever built by us.
Thanks to the design, unlike most machines built by us, cheetah can negotiate sharp turns smoothly even at top speed. The traction required for this spectacular manoeuvre is provided by hard and less rounded foot pads, while the short blunt semi-retractable claws work like cleats of a track spikes and help the racing cheetah accelerate. Moreover, its long muscular tail works like a rudder and stabilizer. To add to it, shoulder blade of cheetah not attached to the collar bone, allows its shoulders to move freely while the hip pivot allows the rear legs to stretch far apart when the body is fully extended.
Together all these make the stride of seven meters possible at exceptional pace of four strides per second. Twice in every stride the body of cheetah is completely off the ground – once when all four legs are extended and once when all four legs are bunched under the body.
But then cheetah is no new species for the subcontinent, and until recently the central Indian plains had their presence. Moreover, unlike other big cats cheetahs had least conflict with humans and these were even domesticated and utilised for hunting.
Some attribute it to desertification destroying the animal’s natural habitat.
Others attribute it to prolonged domestication that promoted catching the cubs from their natural habitat. With low captive breeding rate, this resulted in sharp decline of cheetah population in the wild.
It was in 1947 that Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya hunted the last three Asiatic cheetahs in India and in 1952, the Indian Government declared the cheetah as being extinct in the country.
The desi guldar
Guldar is very solitary and spends most time alone in its well marked territory – except during mating. Retractable claws make guldar skilled climber, and being nocturnal it generally rests amongst the branches of trees during the day where it also keeps the prey safe from pesky scavengers.
Agony of desi guldar
Unlike lion and tiger, India houses an appreciable guldar population that is distributed across many states with Madhya Pradesh, Karnatak, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand having guldar count of 1817, 1129, 905, 846, 814, 703, 194, 32 and 29 respectively.
Though belonging to the same Family as cheetah – Falidae – guldars have the least fan following amongst the big cats. It is important to note here that despite being a relatively small, shy, nocturnal and solitary species amongst the big cats it is guldar that often hits the news headlines – sometimes for intruding human habitations, but mostly for being killed in accidents of various kind.
Varied diet that includes domesticated dogs and rodents – that prevail around leftover food – often attracts guldar to the proximity of human habitations making man-guldar conflict quite frequent. It is therefore no surprise that on an average more than 150 guldars have been killed annually all through previous 23 years.
Imported cheetah, as are exotic ideas and experts, are important and these are sure to improve our wilderness as also society, but then it is high time that we do away with our prejudice against everything desi including guldars and provide these their justified share of importance, respect and credit.
Or else, a few decades from now we would stand witness to yet another crusade for relocating guldars from somewhere around the world.