Eight cheetahs from Namibia, expected in India as part of a reintroduction initiative for the species, will be met by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in person on Saturday, his 72nd birthday.
India was once the home of Asiatic cheetahs. The extinction of the species was declared there in 1952. Maharaja Ramanuja Pratap Singh Deo is said to have killed the last three specimens recorded in India in the late 1940s.
The disappearance of the cheetah in India is mainly due to hunters who coveted its precious light brown fur covered with round spots, as well as the loss of its habitat. Indian authorities have been trying to import these eight African cheetahs, which differ from Asian varieties, after the Supreme Court in 2020 allowed their introduction on an experimental basis in “carefully defined place“.
The five males and three females from Namibia will initially be kept in quarantine in an enclosure in Kuno-Palpur National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. “Cheetahs will be transported in containers, and the prime minister himself will release the animals into the quarantine enclosure“, an environment ministry official told AFP.
The kittens will then be moved to a larger area, and when they get used to the environment, the male cheetahs will be released into the wooded areas, and the females will join them later. According to Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, speaking on Twitter, the initiative “the first of its kind in the world“. Narendra Modi’s presencewill add enthusiasm and energy to all of us“, he added.
Leopards are available
According to local media, the cheetahs will leave Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, on Friday on a specially chartered Boeing 747 cargo plane and arrive the next morning in the western Rajasthan city of Jaipur after a 10-hour journey. From Jaipur, they will take a 42-minute helicopter flight to Kuno Park, where a temporary helipad has been specially arranged, reports the Indian Express daily.
“The purpose of this translocation is not only to reintroduce the cheetah to India (…), but also to develop a metapopulation of cheetahs that will contribute to the conservation of animals in the world.Bhupender Yadav was quoted as saying by the daily. Kuno Park was chosen to house these cheetahs because of the abundance of prey and pastures.
But some experts believe that the cheetahs may have difficulty adapting to their new habitat, which is also home to many leopards, and fear a possible conflict between them. According to Adrian Tordiff, a professor of wildlife veterinary medicine at the University of Pretoria who is involved in the project, South Africa suggested that India consider other reception parks for this reason.
“I don’t think it’s a big problem for adults (…) they’re very used to coexisting with other predatorsAdrien Tordiffe told AFP in August. “But we may face the problem of survival of young children“, he added.
As part of this project, felines from South Africa will be brought to India later. Their trip is actively being prepared, including veterinary examinations, vaccinations, installation of transmitter collars, the Indian Express reports. The world population of cheetahs, listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on the Red List of Threatened Species, is less than 7,000 individuals, most of which live in the African savannas.