21 Sep 2022
Cheetahs are back in India. Seven decades after this cat species was declared extinct there. Two days ago, eight cheetahs from Namibia arrived in Kuno National Park in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. According to reports, the three males and five females are doing well.
This is the first time that a large carnivore has been brought from one continent to another and released back into the wild. Experts had recommended the reintroduction at a conference in 2010. India has been carefully preparing it ever since. Nevertheless, there are concerns and criticism.
The Indian government, however, celebrated the action as a milestone in India's conservation efforts. And as part of the country's 75 years of independence. Indian media reported extensively and headlines were made worldwide.
The cheetahs' arrival had been scheduled for Saturday 17 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday. As part of the formal ceremony, Modi personally released the first two animals from their transport cages, effectively making the historic moment a gift to himself.
The Boeing 747 was modified for the transport (see DD India report). There was enough space for the animals' cages and unhindered access for the team of caretakers. Veterinarians, wildlife experts and three biologists accompanied the cheetahs on their transcontinental journey.
However, it is not true that the plane was painted with a feline livery especially for the transport. Especially since the design does not show a cheetah but a Siberian tiger (see OP India report).
The eight cheetahs, aged between two and six years, were prepared for their journey by the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) northeast of Otjiwarongo. On Friday, a special convoy brought them to Hosea Kutako International Airport near Windhoek. From there, they took a direct flight with a Boeing 747 to Gwalior 200 km southeast of Jaipur and then continued by helicopter to Kuno National Park.
There, the cheetahs will now spend a month in an enclosure. On the one hand as part of the usual quarantine, on the other hand to acclimatise. The climate is more humid than in their country of origin, Namibia. Each cheetah is fitted with satellite transmitters and monitored by a team of volunteers.
South Africa is also participating in the reintroduction programme. The founding population should consist of at least 20 cheetahs.
Kuno National Park is almost 750 square kilometres in size and offers areas of grass and tree savanna, i.e. ideal cheetah habitat. Possible prey include wild boar, hares and various antelope species. The competition is leopard, sloth bear, striped hyena and wolf.
Critics object that this is not really a reintroduction. After all, the Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) was native to India. However, it is not considered a separate species, but only a subspecies (for more, see Wikipedia). Moreover, there are only about 100 of these animals still living in Iran.
Experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) therefore recommended the South (East) African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) at a conference on the Indian project in 2010. This is because it still has the largest populations.
Some critics fear that the cheetahs will not survive in their new environment. CCF Director Dr Laurie Marker counters that this cat species has proven to be extremely adaptable. The area has been carefully studied for its suitability. Marker is a member of the Cat Specialist Group within the IUCN and has advised the Indian government on preparations for the reintroduction.
The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, with top speeds of over 110 km/h. It is considered endangered by the IUCN. According to the IUCN, it is considered an endangered species. Worldwide, there were estimated to be around 7,500 animals in 2017. The largest cheetah population is in Namibia, with about 1,500 animals, according to Marker.
Across its range, the cheetah is threatened by habitat loss, human-animal conflict and the illegal trade in its fur. CCF works with concerned parties across the country to protect the animal.
Indian media such as the national broadcaster India Today (here on YouTube) have reported extensively on the arrival of the cheetahs from Namibia, in India. The online edition of the Indian Express newspaper even presented the eight big cats individually.
But media around the world also picked up on the topic. Among them were the German public broadcaster ARD (Tagesschau), the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC (on its website and YouTube channel) and the US news channel CNN.
Namibia holidaymakers can encounter the world's fastest land animal in all corners of the country, so to speak. In Etosha National Park in the north, of course. But also in the Kalahari in the east and at the Fish River Canyon in the south of the country. Even on the edge of the Namib Desert in the west.
A real must for cheetah fans is a visit to the CCF research and training centre northeast of Otjiwarongo.
The NamibiaCam Youtube channel, a live webcam at Gondwana’s Namib Desert Lodge is also frequented by Cheetahs.
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