India will soon see wild cheetahs for the first time in 70 years – thanks to South Africa
(Photo by David Silverman / Getty Images)
- Asian cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952, and many reintroduction efforts since have stalled.
- But an Indian Supreme Court ruling in 2020 paved the way for cheetahs to return to India, with a South African expert recently giving Kuno National Park a nod of approval.
- Eight cheetahs, five males and three females, donated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust of South Africa, are expected to arrive at the park in November.
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India declared the cheetahs extinct in 1952 and has spent the last decades preparing a reintroduction plan that was finally implemented. Eight cheetahs donated by South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) are now expected to arrive in Kuno National Park of India in November.
India’s last wild cheetah died in 1947, the species being declared extinct only five years later. Asian cheetahs were common in the region until the early 20th century. Numbers have declined due to the widespread trapping and taming of cheetahs that were used to hunt for sport. Under British colonial rule, cheetahs in India were classified as vermin, with rewards offered for slaughtering the species.
Desertification and deforestation have further decimated the cheetah’s natural habitat, ultimately pushing the species to extinction.
Plans to reintroduce the cheetah to India were touted as early as 1955, but only gained real momentum in 1970 when Iran – the only country supporting endangered Asian species – was approached to supply the animals. After decades of negotiations, the plan to source Asian cheetahs from Iran was finally abandoned in 2010.
However, sourcing African cheetahs has remained a viable option for India with offers from Kenya, Namibia and, more recently, South Africa.
Protracted legal battles between conservationists and India’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF), which debated genetic differences between the two species and exotic wild animal translocation, delayed the process by more than eight years.
The Supreme Court of India, in January 2020, gave the green light reintroduce southern African cheetahs following a final request from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The following year, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) published the results of a comprehensive feasibility study which analyzed the relevance of six parks and sanctuaries. Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, about 500 km south of the capital, Delhi, was eventually accepted as a cheetah relocation site by MoEF, NTCA and WII.
The final decision, announced by Alok Kumar, India’s senior chief wildlife conservator, comes just days after EWT’s Cheetah National Metapopulation Director Vincent van der Merwe visited Kuno National Park. .
“The expert, (Van der) Merwe, said Kuno has a perfect grassland and a prey base for cheetahs,” district forestry officer PK Verma told the Hindustan Times the Saturday. “We have started the preparation for the translocation.”
The semi-arid park, which occupies an area of 748 square kilometers, has an abundance of wild cattle, chital – also known as spotted deer – and wild boars which make good prey for the arriving cheetahs. The park is also favored because of the minimal improvements needed to make the area suitable for displaced cheetahs.
In total, five male and three female cheetahs will be donated by EWT.
The Indian government has allocated R26.5 million for the relocation project which will be used for fencing, forest management and transporting cheetahs from South Africa.
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)