African cheetahs were brought to India after becoming extinct more than 70 years ago

NEW DELHI – When a local king in central India shot and killed three cheetahs in 1947, he killed the last of these creatures in the country, and they were declared extinct in India five years later.

On Friday, eight of these feral cats, the world’s fastest land animals, were brought to India from Namibia in Africa to be reintroduced to the country.

According to the list of threatened animals, the global population of cheetahs is between 6,500 and 7,100 International Union for Conservation of Nature. Africa is home to most of the cheetahs, which have become extinct throughout Asia except Iran. They are disappearing in large part due to poaching, shrinking habitat and loss of prey.

“To save cheetahs from extinction, we need to create a permanent place for them on Earth. India has areas of grassland and forest habitat that are suitable for this species,” said Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund Said, an international non-profit organization that has helped the Indian and Namibian governments in the rehabilitation effort.

As part of the detailed plan, five female cheetahs and three males between the ages of 2 and 6 were flown on a chartered Boeing 747 jet from Namibian capital Windhoek to Gwalior in the central Madhya Pradesh state. (The organizers had earlier said that the cheetahs would be sent to North India first.) Then the animals were taken away. SP Yadav, the head of India’s tiger conservation organization overseeing the move, said in a helicopter to the nearby Kuno National Park, where they will be kept.

For the first month, the animals will be left in an enclosure while monitoring for disease and adaptation. Once they become habituated, they will be released into the 285 square miles of the national park.

“It is the only large mammal that India has lost after independence. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to restore it,” Yadav said.

India has seen an increase in its tigers and Leopard population over the years, government data shows. Tiger numbers doubled to nearly 3,000 2006 And 2018, They occupy despite the decline in forest area.

Yadav said India aims to develop a viable population of cheetahs in fenced areas. India’s plan, which is estimated to cost $11 million, aims to bring in about 50 cheetahs from South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe over the next few years.

Some wildlife experts in India are skeptical.

Bangalore-based wildlife biologist and conservation scientist Ravi Chellam said the scientific foundation of the project is “weak” and its conservation claims are “unrealistic”.

Cheetahs, even in the best African habitats, exist at very low densities of about one animal per 38 square miles. This means that Kuno National Park will only be able to accommodate seven to eight cheetahs, he said.

“How will a self-sustaining, wild and independent population of cheetahs establish themselves in India when there is no suitable habitat of sufficient size for them?” asked Chelam, chief executive officer of Metastring Foundation, a technology company working in the fields of environmental and public health.

Although he did not oppose resettlement, he said, the project would redirect resources away from India’s more urgent conservation needs, such as the relocation of Asiatic lions from forests in Gujarat state, the only remaining population of this subspecies in the world. . , But the environment ministry and responsible state governments did not act on a 2013 Supreme Court order to relocate some hundreds of lions to the park in Kuno, where the cheetahs are being released.

“India’s Wildlife Action Plan that guides conservation over a 15-year period gives priority to native species that require a high level of protection,” Chelam said. “We are in 2022, and there are no signs of the lions relocating.”

The preparations for the arrival of the cheetah are in full swing. On his birthday on September 17, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the national park to release the animals. Hundreds of locals, who have been tapped to spread awareness about the animals, were in attendance. Local media reported that apart from watchtowers equipped with CCTV cameras, drone squad Keep an eye out for hunters.

Reviving cheetah populations can be challenging. For example, in South Africa, cheetah specialist Vincent van der Merwe has worked to increase its population from 217 on 41 reserves in the country to more than 500 cheetahs on 69 reserves in four African countries. This successful approach, he said, is dependent on protected reserves as well as preventing people from entering protected areas where cheetahs live and cheetahs from entering areas where humans attack and attack animals.

Cheetahs aren’t the only animals that have been relocated. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, dedicated to the conservation and management of giraffes in more than a dozen countries in Africa, has overseen successful resettlement within that continent. Group executive director Stephanie Fennessy said giraffes are very difficult to spot given their size and physiology.

“It takes time for animals to settle into their new environment and start breeding. Post-translation monitoring is therefore an important part of the process,” she said.

Anant Gupta in Delhi contributed to this report.

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