India prepares for speedy delivery of 100 cheetahs from South Africa

New Delhi declared the big cats extinct in 1952, but a programme is helping to reintroduce them

One of the cheetahs released by Narendra Modi. EPA
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India is set to receive dozens of cheetahs from South Africa over the next decade under New Delhi’s plans to reintroduce the species.

The first 12 — seven males and five females — are likely to arrive month after South Africa’s environment ministry signed a deal with New Delhi, media reports said.

“The cheetahs will translocate to the country for the next eight to 10 years to help establish a viable and secure cheetah population,” said the South African Environment Ministry.

India’s Environment Ministry said both the countries have agreed to establish a viable and secure cheetah population in India, promote conservation and ensure expertise is shared and exchanged for capacity building and promoting Cheetah conservation.

“In terms of the MoU, the countries will collaborate and exchange best practices in large carnivore conservation through the transfer of technology, training of professionals in management, policy, and science, and to establish a bilateral custodianship arrangement for cheetah translocated between the two countries,” India’s Environment Ministry said.

New Delhi has been lobbying African nations over the ambitious project in an effort to reintroduce the species to the country more than seven decades it was declared extinct.

India welcomed eight cheetahs from Namibia to Kuno National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh in September as part of the programme, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi releasing them to the wild amid fanfare.

It is believed India had more than 10,000 cheetahs during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar in the 15th century, about one-tenth of which were kept at his court for hunting other animals.

But their population dwindled by the 1900s following bounty hunting by colonial British rulers and former Indian kings.

The last three cats were hunted down in 1947 by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, a king in central India’s Koriya region.

The Indian government declared the Asiatic cheetahs extinct in the country in 1952.

For several decades, the Indian government has been making efforts to move the big cats from countries such as Iran — the last home to Asiatic cheetahs, forcing the government to look towards Africa.

But its attempts stalled after India’s Supreme Court ruled that cheetahs from African species were “foreign” to India before overturning its own ruling in 2018.

New Delhi immediately started negotiations with several African countries and signed an agreement with Namibia last July to relocate 50 cheetahs to India by 2027.

The negotiations with South Africa were in progress for years amid scepticism by many Indian wildlife experts, who termed it a “vanity project”.

The agreement comes as veterinarians treat one of the eight cheetahs brought from Namibia, which has been diagnosed with a life-threatening infection at India's Kuno National Park.

The four-year-old female cat named Sasha is suffering from hepatorenal infection — which affects the liver and kidneys — and is being treated by a team of vets at the park, said JS Chauhan, chief conservator of forests.

“The cheetah's condition has improved,” Mr Chauhan told the local press. “It is being treated by three veterinarians who are in constant touch with cheetah experts from Namibia and South Africa.”

Updated: January 27, 2023, 9:35 AM