Are GPS tracking collars on cheetahs in India causing infections and deaths?

NEWS AND VIEWS – KUNO NATIONAL PARK, MADHYA PRADESH, INDIA: There is speculation that the GPS tracking collars placed around the necks of the relocated cheetahs from South Africa to India are killing some of them because the cheetahs are irritated by the collars in damp conditions and are scratching their necks causing a killer infection.

They want to relocate cheetah from Namibia, Africa to the Kuno NP India but it is failing and one reason might be deaths caused by neck infections due to GPS collars
They want to relocate cheetah from Namibia, Africa to the Kuno NP India but it is failing and one reason might be deaths caused by neck infections due to GPS collars. Image: MikeB
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At present this is entirely speculative and some people think that the suggestion is misleading. Also, the radio collars are important electronic devices to help track the movements of these very important cheetahs.

However, in an earlier article I stated that the rewilding of India with cheetahs is failing. It has not entirely failed at present but all the indications are that it is going to be a failure for one reason and another. Relocating large cats from one continent to another is incredibly difficult.

But the Indian government has put a lot of emphasis and faith in the rewilding by cheetahs after they were declared extinct in India in 1952 because they were over-hunted by eager sport hunters without giving any consideration to what they were actually doing.

It is reported by the BBC that some of the deaths were unavoidable such as cardiac failure brought about by stress or mating injuries.

But at least two of the deaths according to wildlife experts and veterinarians were caused by maggot infestations after skin infections which might have been caused, as mentioned above, by cheetahs scratching their necks due to the irritation felt by wearing the collars.

India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change said that the deaths were all “due to natural causes” and that blaming the radio collars was “speculative and lacking in scientific evidence”.

However, Alok Kumar, the former chief conservator of forests in Madhya Pradesh, told the BBC that he “has seen infections caused by collars even in tigers”.

How the GPS collars might have killed two cheetahs

The idea that the infections around the neck were caused by the cheetahs scratching themselves comes from a veteran conservationists and one of the experts who planned and oversaw the translocation project, Yadvendradev Jhala. The problem may be exacerbated by the current humidity in India in the Kuno NP.

He elucidated the thought by saying that this is the first monsoon for these cheetahs. They come from Africa and a drier habitat. They have to acclimatise to the India’s monsoon. Further, they have a very heavy undercoat and thick fur under the neck which absorbs moisture and becomes damp under these humid climatic conditions. This can exacerbate the potential for the skin to become tender and itchy.

And if that is true, scratching the area under the collar would be a natural consequence and when that happens it breaks the skin which allows flies to lay eggs within the injury resulting in a maggot infestation which in turn leads to a bacterial infection causing septicaemia and death.

The suggestion seems logical and the Indian authorities should take it seriously. I understand that 8 of the 20 cheetahs have died so far. The overall number includes cubs born to one of the females.

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