Cheetahs return to India after going extinct there over 70 years ago

NEW DELHI — When a local king in central India shot and killed three cheetahs in 1947, he killed what were thought to be the last of them in the country, and they became extinct in India five years later. It was declared.

On Friday, eight of the wild cats, the world’s fastest land animals, were flown from Namibia in Africa to India in an effort to reintroduce them to the country.

The global population of cheetahs is between 6,500 and 7,100, according to a list of endangered species. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Africa is home to most of the cheetahs, which have become extinct in all of Asia except Iran. are disappearing in large part due to poaching, shrinking habitats and lack of prey.

“To save cheetahs from extinction, we need to create permanent habitats for them on earth. India has grassland and forest habitats, which are suitable for this species,” said the founder of Cheetah Conservation Fund. said Laurie Marker, an international nonprofit organization that has supported the resettlement efforts of the governments of India and Namibia.

As part of the elaborate project, five female cheetahs and three males, aged between 2 and 6 years, were flown from Namibia’s capital Windhoek to Gwalior in central Madhya Pradesh state on a chartered Boeing 747 jet. (Organizers had previously said the cheetahs would first be sent to northern India.) The animals were then transported. In a helicopter to the nearby Kono National Park, where they will be kept, said SP Yadav, head of the Tiger Conservation Organization of India, which is overseeing the move.

For the first month, the animals will be confined in an enclosure while monitored for disease and adaptation. Once they have adapted, they will be released into the 285 square miles of the national park.

“This is the only large mammal that India has lost since independence. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to restore it,” Yadav said.

India has seen an increase in its tiger population. Leopards Government data shows that the population over the years. The number of tigers doubled to about 3,000 between . 2006 And 2018, Despite the reduction in the forest area, they are in possession.

Yadav said India’s goal is to develop a viable population of cheetahs in fenced areas. India’s project, which costs about $11 million, aims to bring in about 50 cheetahs from South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe over the next few years.

Some wildlife experts in India are skeptical.

Bangalore-based wildlife biologist and conservation scientist Ravi Chelam said the project’s scientific basis is “weak” and its conservation claims are “unrealistic”.

Cheetahs, even in the best African habitats, exist at extremely low densities of one animal per 38 square miles. This means that Kono National Park will only be able to accommodate seven to eight cheetahs.

“How will a self-sustaining, wild and independent population of cheetahs be able to establish themselves in India when there is no suitable habitat of sufficient size for them?” asked Chelam, chief executive of Mestring Foundation, a technology company working in the field of environment and public health.

While he doesn’t oppose relocation, he said, the plan would divert resources from India’s more urgent conservation needs, such as moving Asiatic tigers from the forests of Gujarat state, the only remaining population of the subspecies in the world. has gone . But the environment ministry and responsible state governments have not followed a 2013 Supreme Court order that moved hundreds of tigers to the Kano park, where cheetahs are being released.

“India’s Wildlife Action Plan that guides conservation over a 15-year period prioritizes endemic species that require a high level of protection,” said Chelam. “Here we are in 2022, and there are no signs of tiger migration.”

Preparations for Cheetah’s arrival are in full swing. On September 17, his birthday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi traveled to the national park to release the animals. Hundreds of local people, who have been used to spread awareness about the animals, participated. Local media reported that in addition to watchtowers equipped with CCTV cameras, Drone Squad Will keep an eye on the hunters.

Restoring cheetah populations may be difficult. In South Africa, for example, cheetah expert Vincent van der Merwe has worked to increase the number of cheetahs from 217 in 41 reserves in the country to more than 500 in 69 reserves in four African countries. He said this successful approach relies on fenced reserves as well as preventing people from entering protected areas where leopards live and preventing leopards from entering areas dominated by humans and livestock. attack

Cheetahs are not the only animals that have been relocated. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, dedicated to the conservation and management of giraffes in more than a dozen countries in Africa, has overseen successful migrations within the continent. Stephanie Fennessy, the group’s executive director, said moving giraffes is very difficult given their size and anatomy.

“Animals take time to settle and reproduce in their new environment. So post-translocation monitoring is an important part of the process,” he said.

Anant Gupta in Delhi contributed reporting.

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