Declared extinct in India in 1952, the cheetah is the only large carnivore in the country to suffer this fate.
But the endangered feline used to have a much larger range. Historically, cheetahs have roamed throughout the Middle East and central India and much of sub-Saharan Africa. Habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans have drastically reduced their populations.
The group said the animals selected for the 11-hour trek were “based on an assessment of health, wild temperament, hunting skills and ability to contribute genetics that would result in a strong founder population”.
Taking these cats from Namibia on the southwest coast of Africa to central India takes many steps. Cheetahs travelled from the CCF Centre to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, Namibia, on Friday. They then took a private jet to Jaipur, India. Finally, on Saturday, the cats were taken to Kuno National Park and released into their new homes.
“As an environmentalist, I am thrilled, and as a CCF leader, I am very proud of the work of our CCF reintroduction team,” CCF founder and executive director Laurie Marker said in a press release. “This project would not have been possible without research and commitment to cheetah conservation.”
Jara Yadvindradev, director of the Indian Wildlife Research Institute and chief scientist of the Indian Cheetah Project, said the project would benefit India’s entire ecosystem — not just the cheetahs.
“Returning top predators to historical evolutionary balance creates cascading effects that lead to better management and restoration of wildlife habitat for the benefit of all species and will uplift impoverished forests,” Yadvindradev said in the release. Livelihoods of Residential Communities.” .
A previous attempt to bring African cheetahs to Kuno National Park was blocked by India’s Supreme Court in 2012, suggesting the introduction of non-native species was problematic and warning the park may not have enough prey to feed them.
SP Yadav, director general of the Cheetah Project, said India has been working for years to prepare parks with anti-poaching measures and increasing prey populations.
However, Faiyaz Khudsar, a conservation biologist who has worked in Kuno National Park for about eight years, worries that cheetahs may still not have enough food.
“If you naturally increase the number of prey bases and then introduce new species or predators, that’s sustainable. (But if you’re bringing in from elsewhere) the prey base…I don’t know where it’s going to go in In six months or a year,” Kudsal told CNN.
Khudsar also said that cheetahs compete with other aggressive predators such as leopards.
But Adrien Tordiff, an associate professor at the University of Pretoria who has been involved in the cheetah program since 2020, said the selection of cheetahs from South Africa was based on other creatures in the national park.
“Because they’re going into areas with high leopard densities, we want very wild animals and are very used to being around other big carnivores, lions, leopards, etc. So they’re not naive about those carnivores, they can avoid them, They can defend themselves and they really know what they are and the risk they pose to them,” Todiff told CNN.
India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change believes that bringing the cheetah back to India “may better protect the open forest, grassland and scrub ecosystems, which will become its flagship species.”
The Indian government believes that the factors driving the extinction of the country’s cheetahs – mainly hunting and habitat loss – have “diminished”.
During British rule, forests were cleared to develop settlements and create plantations, resulting in the loss of habitat for big cats such as cheetahs. Considered less dangerous than tigers and relatively easy to tame, cheetahs were also often used by Indian nobles for sport hunting.
According to Jarrah, the last cheetahs were shot in 1947, shortly before they were officially declared extinct.