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Man behind Cheetah reintroduction

ISP Delhi Bureau 

The force behind the ambitious plan to reintroduce the world’s fastest land animal Cheetah back to India is M K Ranjit Singh. The retired IAS officer who has many decades of track record in administration and conservation of wild life in India is the man who made it possible.  He is a member of the Cheetah Reintroduction Task Force of the country. 

Singh stands out as a prominent figure in India’s wild life protection journey. He joined the Indian Administrative Services in 1961 and was posted to Madhya Pradesh where he helped save the central Indian Barasingha from extinction. He later became the secretary of forest and tourism in the Madhya Pradesh state government and established fourteen new sanctuaries, eight new National Parks and doubled the area of three existing national parks. He was India’s first director of wildlife preservation under the Environment Ministry.

With only a few Asiatic cheetahs left on earth, African cheetahs from Namibia  and South Africa have landed in India and are acclimatising to weather and habitat conditions in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park. Cheetahs were officially declared extinct in 1952 because of excessive hunting and human encroachments. Their vulnerability to diseases is another area of major concern as India plans its conservation. 

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the Cheetah’s to the National Park earlier this month, the lifelong dream of conservationist M K Ranjit Singh came true. He was also the main architect of India’s Wildlife Protection Act in 1972.

The long drawn  process of trying to get the cheetah to India began during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi. India negotiated with Iran, a major habitat for Cheetah’s even today, but the efforts could not materialise in the 70s while Singh was as IAS officer in charge of the efforts. 

Singh went on to work with the United Nations Environment Programme and came back to India in the 80s where he started his work in Kuno in Madhya Pradesh to prepare suitable areas for lions and cheetahs to flourish in India. He became the director of Wildlife Institute of India in 1985 and tried again to reintroduce the cheetah but the numbers of Cheetah in Iran had fallen and the talks did not take off and Singh retired. A court order also restricted entry of Cheetah into India. 

In January 2020, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier order stating that the cheetah can come to India and Kuno was declared the most suitable place. And hence, the reintroduction of Cheetah could finally happen in 2022. 

Ranjit Singh can certainly be called India’s foremost voices in wildlife conservation. He is currently an emeritus member of the board of trustees of the Wildlife Trust of India.

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