Cheetahs return to India after disappearing from the country about 70 years ago

Cheetahs return to India after disappearing from the country about 70 years ago

NEW DELHI (AP) – seven decades later cheetahs died out in India, they returned.

Eight big cats from Namibia made the long journey Saturday on a chartered cargo flight to the northern Indian city of Gwalior, part of an ambitious and hotly contested plan to bring cheetahs back to the South Asian nation.

They were then moved to a new home: a vast national park in the heart of India, where scientists hope the world’s fastest land animal will once again roam.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the cats into the enclosure on Saturday morning. The cats emerged from their cage, hesitant at first, constantly surveying their new surroundings.

“When the cheetah runs again… pastures will be restored, biodiversity will increase and ecotourism will get a boost,” Modi said.

Cheetahs were once widespread in India and became extinct in 1952 due to hunting and habitat loss. They remain the first and only predator to go extinct since Indian independence in 1947. India hopes that African cheetah imports will help conservation efforts in the country’s threatened and largely abandoned grasslands.

A cheetah moves through a quarantined section of a South African game reserve before heading to India next month.

Denis Farrell via The Associated Press

There are fewer than 7,000 adult cheetahs left in the world, and they now inhabit less than 9% of their original range. Habitat loss due to population growth and climate change is a huge threat, and India’s grasslands and forests could make a “suitable” home for a big cat, said Lori Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Foundation, an advocacy and research group helping to this. bring cats to India.

“In order to save cheetahs from extinction, we need to create permanent places for them on earth,” she said.

Cheetah populations are declining in most countries. The exception is South Africa, where cats do not have enough space. Experts hope Indian forests can provide these cats with space to thrive. There are currently a dozen cheetahs in quarantine in South Africa and they are expected to arrive in Kuno National Park soon. Earlier this month, four cheetahs captured from game reserves in South Africa were flew to Mozambiquewhere the cheetah population has declined sharply.

Some experts are more cautious.

According to Mayukh Chatterjee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the introduction of a new animal could lead to “cascading and unintended consequences.”

For example, tiger population boom in India led to even greater conflict with people living in the same space. As for cheetahs, there are questions about how their presence will affect other predators such as striped hyenas, or even prey such as birds.

“The question remains: how well is it done,” he said.

A cheetah lies in a transport cage at the Cheetah Conservation Foundation (CCF) in Namibia.
A cheetah lies in a transport cage at the Cheetah Conservation Foundation (CCF) in Namibia.

Dirk Heinrich via The Associated Press

The first eight cheetahs from Namibia will be quarantined at a facility in the national park and will be monitored for a month to ensure they do not carry pests. They will then be released into a large enclosure in the park to help them get used to their new environment. The enclosures contain natural prey such as sika deer and antelope, which scientists hope they will learn to hunt, and are designed to prevent other predators such as bears or leopards from entering.

In about two months, the cheetahs will be collared and released into the national park. Their movements will be monitored regularly, but for the most part they will operate on their own.

The reserve is large enough to house 21 cheetahs, and if they took over the area and bred, they could spread to other interconnected grasslands and forests, which scientists say could house a dozen more cheetahs.

On the outskirts of the park there is only one village with several hundred families. Indian officials have said they will be moved soon and any loss of livestock due to cheetahs will be compensated. The cost of the project is estimated at $11.5 million over five years, including $6.3 million to be paid by state-owned Indian Oil.

Migration from continent to continent has been prepared for decades. The cats that originally roamed India were Asiatic cheetahs, genetically distinct relatives of those living in Africa and whose range extended as far as Saudi Arabia.

The Cheetah Conservation Foundation (CCF) will travel to India this week to donate eight cheetahs to Kuno National Park.
The Cheetah Conservation Foundation (CCF) will travel to India this week to donate eight cheetahs to Kuno National Park.

Dirk Heinrich via The Associated Press

India hoped to introduce Asiatic cheetahs, but only a few dozen survive in Iran, and the population is too vulnerable to be resettled.

Many obstacles remain, including the presence of other predators in India such as leopards which can compete with cheetahs, says conservationist Pamela Burger from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

“It would be better to keep them where they are now than to make efforts to create new places where the result is doubtful,” she said.

Dr Adrian Thordiff, a South African wildlife veterinarian associated with the project, said the animals needed a helping hand. He added that conservation efforts in many African countries have not been as successful as in India, where strict conservation laws have kept big cat populations.

“We cannot sit back and hope that species like the cheetah will survive on their own without our help,” he said.

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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