India on Saturday received 12 cheetahs from South Africa — the second batch to be released into a national park in an effort to reintroduce the big cats to the wild after 70 years.
The seven males and five females were flown from Gauteng on Friday evening by the Indian Air Force and arrived in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh state on Saturday morning — a 10-hour journey.
The cheetahs were then taken to the state's Kuno National Park by helicopter.
Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav, who released the animals into an enclosure, called their arrival another “milestone” in Project Cheetah launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
All 12 cheetahs were born in the wild and have grown up among competing predators, including lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs.
South Africa will supply India with another 100 cheetahs over the next decade, under a deal signed by the two countries last month.
Mr Modi released the first batch of eight cheetahs, from Namibia, in the park in September. He called the reintroduction programme “undoing the ecological wrong”.
India is thought to have had more than 10,000 cheetahs during the reign of the 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar, with about 10 per cent as hunting stock for the court.
But their population had collapsed by the 1900s because of hunting by British colonisers and local rulers.
The last three cheetahs were hunted in 1948 by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, a king in Central India’s Koriya region in 1948.
In 1952, the Indian government declared cheetahs were extinct.
The latest arrivals were initially kept in quarantine and later shifted to a six square kilometre enclosure. They are reported to be hunting every three to four days and will be released into the wild once they are fully acclimatised to their environment.