India's hopes of reviving the cheetah population in the country have suffered a major setback as the majestic Sasha was found dead in her cubicle at Kuno National Park on Monday. The news of her untimely demise has left the wildlife enthusiasts in a state of shock and grief.
The Madhya Pradesh department had dispatched an emergency medical response team to Kuno in Sheopur district when Sasha was diagnosed with a serious medical condition back in January. The preliminary assessments of the cheetah showed symptoms of dehydration and renal disease, according to sources.
In an effort to save Sasha's life, a team of veterinarians led by Dr. Atul Gupta, the lead vet of Van Vihar National Park, was sent to Kuno from Bhopal, which was over 350 km away. The experts managed to administer fluids, which led to an improvement in Sasha's condition.
Sasha, along with seven other cheetahs, was airlifted to Kuno on September 17, and was adapting well to her new home in India, under the watchful eyes of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Madhya Pradesh Forest Department staff. However, as experts suggest, chronic kidney disease is a common ailment among cheetahs.
All eight cheetahs had been in hunting enclosures at Kuno National Park since November last year. The tragic loss of Sasha is not only a setback for the project but also a huge loss to the biodiversity of the country. The authorities are expected to conduct a thorough investigation to ascertain the cause of Sasha's death.
“It’s normal. She was sick and inspite of best efforts and help from international doctors including those from Namibia she could not be saved. She was weak right from day one,” said a senior officer in the MoEF.
In a poignant turn of events, Kuno has now become the new abode for a total of 19 cheetahs, including twelve South African cheetahs released into enclosures in February this year as part of the Prime Minister's grand vision, Project Cheetah.
Though Sasha's death is a significant setback to the project, the park still stands tall as the proud home to 19 other majestic cheetahs, with seven more having been brought from Namibia and released by the honorable Prime Minister in September last year. Out of the total cheetah population, four have already ventured into the wilderness and are strutting their stuff in the park's sprawling expanse.
Sasha was 5.5-year-old female Namibian cheetah.
Sasha was found on a farm near Gobabis, a town in east-central Namibia, by some of the farm workers in late 2017. She was skinny and malnourished. The workers nursed her back to health. In January 2018, CCF staff learned about Sasha and moved her to the CCF Centre lands, which include a large, integrated, livestock model farm and wildlife reserve.
Since another female cheetah, Savannah, arrived at the CCF Centre in 2019, Sasha and she became friends with Sasha, and the two are typically always found together in their enclosure. Sasha and Savannah were living together in the big hunting boma at Kuno National Park awaiting release.
“The three veterinarians assigned to look after the health of the cheetahs conducted a thorough examination and discovered that Sasha needed immediate treatment. Without any delay, Sasha was brought to the Quarantine enclosure on the same day. While being transported, a blood sample was taken from Sasha which was then tested using state-of-the-art machines in the laboratory located in Van Vihar National Park. Unfortunately, the blood sample test revealed that Sasha had a kidney infection,” said an official release.
“Upon receiving this information, a wildlife doctor and another expert doctor were sent to Kuno National Park with a portable ultrasound machine. After conducting further tests, it was confirmed that Sasha indeed had kidney disease. In order to get a complete understanding of Sasha's medical history, senior scientists from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and Kuno National Park Management obtained Sasha's treatment history from the Cheetah Conservation Foundation in Namibia. The medical records revealed that the last blood sample tested in Namibia on August 15, 2022, had a creatinine level of over 400, which confirmed that Sasha had kidney disease before coming to India,” they said.
Release added that, “The wildlife doctors posted at Kuno National Park, along with Dr Eli Walker, an expert from Namibia, worked tirelessly from January 22 until Sasha's unfortunate death to provide him with the best possible care. Throughout the treatment process, veterinary experts from various locations, including Dr Adrian Tordif from the Cheetah Conservation Foundation in Namibia and the University of Pretoria in South Africa, were in constant contact via video conferencing and telephone."
Senior managers and veterinarians, including Dr. Laurie Marker, Dr. Andy Fraser, and Dr. Mike, who came with 12 cheetahs brought to India from South Africa on February 18, also discussed Sasha's treatment in detail. South African experts praised the fact that Sasha received proper care despite having such a serious illness, said officials.
“Thankfully, the seven other cheetahs brought from Namibia are healthy. Of the seven, three males and one female have been released in the open forest, where they are fully active and healthy, hunting as usual. The 12 cheetahs brought from South Africa are currently in quarantine enclosures and are in excellent health and full of energy,” they added.