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PoliticsIndiaNamibian cheetahs in India: 10 things to know

Namibian cheetahs in India: 10 things to know

As many as 74 years after the last cheetah in India died, eight from Namibia are going to roam in Indian jungles again. Eight Namibian cheetahs will be brought to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park and released into their new abode by Prime Minister Modi on 17 September, which is also his birthday. 

A 747-400 aircraft will fly the cheetahs from Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. They will be kept inside cages in the main cabin. Vets will have full access to them during the flight. There will be no break for refuelling and they will not be given any food so that they don't feel nauseous. In the morning the day after tomorrow, they will reach Jaipur. From Jaipur, they will be taken to Kuno National Park in helicopters.

10 things to know about imported cheetahs

  1. The group of eight cheetahs comprises 5 females and 3 males.
  2. The female cheetahs are aged between 2 and 5 years and the male cheetahs are aged between 4.5 years and 5.5 years.
  3. The 3 male cheetahs include two brothers who have been living in the reserve of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia since July 2021.
  4. The other male cheetah was born in 2018 at another reserve.
  5. One of the female cheetahs was found at a waterhole near Gobabis in southeastern Namibia. They were malnourished at the time and were brought to the reserve of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in 2020. It was believed that their mother died in a wildfire a few weeks before they were found.
  6. The second female cheetah was captured on a farm neighbouring the CCF's reserve.
  7. The third female cheetah was born at Erindi Private Game Reserve in April 2020. Her mother was in the CCF's rehabilitation programme and was let back into the wild more than two years ago.
  8. The fourth was found on a farm in 2017 in a malnourished condition.
  9. The fifth female cheetah was found in 2019. The 4th and the 5th are 'best friends' and they are always found together.
  10. They will be kept in quarantine closure for 30 days and then they will be released in a 6 sq km predator-proof facility.

Habitat, preying habits, dwindling number of cheetahs

Historically ranging throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa and extending eastward into the Middle East and to central India, the cheetah is now distributed mainly in small, fragmented populations in central and southern, eastern and northwestern Africa. 

In 2016, the global cheetah population was estimated at around 7,100 individuals in the wild; it is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In the past, cheetahs were tamed and trained for hunting ungulates. 

The diet of the Asiatic cheetah consists of chinkara, desert hare, goitered gazelle, urial, wild goats and livestock; in India, cheetahs used to prey mostly on blackbuck. There are no records of cheetahs killing humans. Cheetahs in the Kalahari have been reported feeding on citron melons for their water content.

A few centuries ago, the cheetah was abundant in India, and its range coincided with the distribution of the blackbuck. However, its numbers in India plummeted from the 19th century onward; Divyabhanusinh of the Bombay Natural History Society notes that the last three individuals in the wild were killed by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh of Surguja (a man also noted for holding a record for shooting 1,360 tigers) in 1947. The last confirmed sighting in India was of a cheetah that drowned in a well near Hyderabad in 1957.

Re-introducing cheetahs in India

It was a long-drawn process, with India entering agreements with a few countries where cheetahs continue to live and then the agreement falling apart. During the early 2000s, scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad) proposed a plan to clone Asiatic cheetahs from for reintroduction in India, but Iran denied the proposal. 

In September 2009, the Minister of Environment and Forests assigned the Wildlife Trust of India and the Wildlife Institute of India with examining the potential of importing African cheetahs to India. Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary were suggested as reintroduction sites for the cheetah because of their high prey density. However, plans for reintroduction were stalled in May 2012 by the Supreme Court of India because of a political dispute and concerns over introducing a non-native to the country. Opponents stated the plan was "not a case of intentional movement of an organism into a part of its native range".

On 28 January 2020, the Supreme Court allowed the union government to introduce cheetahs to suitable habitat in India on an experimental basis to see if they can adapt to it. In July 2022, it was announced that eight cheetahs would be transferred from Namibia to India in August.

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