After becoming extinct in India more than 70 years ago, cheetahs are finally beginning to return to the country through a new reintroduction programme.
Eight leopards from Namibia arrived in India on Saturday, it was reported Tweet from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). The big cats were released in the Indian Kono National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who was celebrating his 72nd birthday – was there to welcome the Panthers into their new home. “The long wait is over,” Modi said wrote on Twitter Next to pictures of cats in their new environment.
Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952 and it is the largest carnivores in the country that suffered this fate.
Today, spotted subspecies are found in southern and eastern Africa, particularly in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
But endangered cats had a much larger range. Historically, cheetahs roamed the Middle East and central India as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa. Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans have dramatically reduced their population.
There are now fewer than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, says the WWF. in Iran, There are only 12 adult cheetahs in the wild.
The release of the eight animals is part of a larger plan to return the cats to their former group. In January, the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change announced in a press release The government plans to release 50 cheetahs into India’s national parks over the next five years.
The group that arrived in Kono consisted of three males and five females of leopards from Namibia. According to a press release from CCF. Each leopard was vaccinated, fitted with a satellite neck and placed in isolation at the fund’s site in Otjiwarongo, Namibia, according to the statement.
The animals selected for the 11-hour trip were “based on an assessment of health, wild disposition, hunting skills, and ability to contribute genetics that will result in a strong institutional set,” the organization says.
It took a multi-step journey to transport the cats from Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, to central India. On Friday, Panthers flew from CCF to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, Namibia. Then they took a private jet to Jaipur, India. Finally, on Saturday, the cats were taken to Kono National Park and released into their new home.
“As a conservation activist, I am thrilled, and as the leader of the CCF, I am exceptionally proud of the work of the CCF Reintroduction Team,” CCF Founder and CEO Laurie Marker said in the statement. “Without the research and dedication to cheetah conservation, this project could not be carried out.”
Gala Yadvindradev, dean of the Wildlife Institute of India and lead scientist on the Indian Cheetah Project, said the project would benefit all of India – not just cheetahs.
“Restoring a large predator restores the historical-evolutionary balance, leading to cascading effects, resulting in better management and restoration of wildlife habitats, for the benefit of all species, and will raise the livelihoods of poor forest-dwelling communities,” Yadvendradev said in the statement. .
India’s Supreme Court blocked a previous attempt to bring African leopards into Kono National Park in 2012, which noted that the introduction of a non-native species was a problem and warned that there might not be enough prey in the park to keep them feeding.
SP Yadav, general manager of the Cheetah Project, said India has been equipping the park over several years, with anti-poaching measures and increasing prey quantity.
However, Fayyad Khedsar, a conservation biologist who has worked in Kono National Park for about eight years, is concerned that leopards may still have enough to eat.
“If you naturally build up a prey base and then bring in a new species or a predator, that’s sustainable. (But if you bring in) a prey base from somewhere else… I don’t know which direction it’s going in six months or a year.
Khader also said that cheetahs will face competition from other aggressive predators such as cheetahs.
But Adrian Tordev, assistant professor at the University of Pretoria, who has been involved in the Cheetah project since 2020, said the South African leopards were chosen with other creatures in the national park in mind.
“Because they go into areas with a high density of tiger, we wanted animals that are really wild and very accustomed to being with other large carnivores, lions, leopards, etc. So they are not gullible to those carnivores, they can avoid them, they can defend about themselves against them, and they really understand what they are and the risks they pose to them,” Tordev told CNN.
India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change believes that returning cheetahs to India “will likely lead to better conservation of open forest, grassland and scrub ecosystems in which they will serve as primate species”.
The Indian government believes that the factors that led to the extinction of the cheetah within the country – mainly hunting and loss of habitat – have “retreated”.
Under British rule, forests were cleared to develop settlements and set up farms, resulting in the loss of habitat for big cats, such as the cheetah. Leopards are less dangerous than tigers and are relatively easy to tame, and were also frequently used by Indian nobles for sport hunting.
According to Jhala, the last leopards were shot in 1947, shortly before they were officially declared extinct.