The fastest terrestrial animal, the cheetah, was reintroduced into India on Saturday, 70 years after it was formally declared extinct in 1952.
Eight large cats from Namibia, an African country on the southwest coast, were flown in a special aircraft to Gwalior in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, and then transferred in two helicopters to Kuno National Park, their new sanctuary.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the big cats in the park on the occasion of his 72nd birthday. “Cheetahs have come back to our land after decades,” he said in a video message posted on his official Twitter.
“On this historic day, I want to congratulate all Indians and also thank the government of Namibia,” he remarked.
These felines will also be quarantined in the enclosures for the next month before being released into the park, according to officials.
They would be outfitted with Satellite/GSM-GPS-VHF radio collars before being released into the wild, allowing for remote monitoring.
An official statement issued earlier this week by the Prime Minister’s office said the reintroduction of cheetah in the country “is being done under Project Cheetah, which is the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.”
“Cheetahs will aid in the restoration of open forest and grassland ecosystems in India,” the statement said, adding that “this will help conserve biodiversity and enhance ecosystem services like water security, carbon sequestration, and soil moisture conservation, benefiting society at large.”
Kuno, located in the Chambal region and part of the Sheopur-Shivpuri forested landscape in Madhya Pradesh, is spread over an area of 750 square kilometers (289 square miles) and has a favorable environment for cheetahs as it has a mix of grassland and sloppy area, according to the officials.
In February, the Ministry of Environment and Forests told parliament that a total of 12-14 cheetahs will be brought from South Africa, Namibia, or other African countries over a period of the five-year as per the action plan.
The cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952 due to massive hunting and poaching.
While the government is confident that the translocation of cheetahs will be successful, many experts in the country have expressed skepticism about the government’s ambitious project to import cheetahs from abroad and reintroduce them into Indian forests.
Source: Anadolu Agency