21 Jul 2022
70 years after it was declared extinct there, the cheetah is set to return to India. Namibia will provide the first cheetahs for the reintroduction. This is provided for in an agreement between India and Namibia, which was signed yesterday in India by government representatives of both countries.
The continent-to-continent translocation is considered the first such programme for the conservation of species and biodiversity. It also serves to expand the cheetah's range once more.
Namibia and India also want to exchange ideas on best practices to reduce conflicts between farmers and local communities with predators like the cheetah. Staff will also be exchanged for education and training in wildlife management. Namibia, in particular, is expected to benefit from India's know-how in monitoring procedures and population estimation techniques.
According to Indian media reports, the first eight cheetahs will arrive in India as early as mid-August. They will come from the Erindi Private Game Reserve, Dr Laurie Marker, Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), told NamibiaFocus. The CCF has been managing the cheetah project there for years.
The new home of these eight cheetahs is Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. They will be followed by others, also from South Africa. The reintroduction coincides with India's 75th independence celebrations this year.
The cheetah was once native to an area that stretched from Africa across the Middle East to India. Due to shrinking habitats and hunting, numbers in India had been declining for centuries. Since 1952, the big cat is officially considered extinct there.
It was the Asian cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus). However, this is not a separate species, as long assumed, but a subspecies. The Cat Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) distinguishes four subspecies in its cat systematics: Asian, Northwest African, Northeast African and South (East) African cheetah (for more see Wikipedia).
In 2010, a conference was held to discuss the reintroduction of the cheetah into India, explains Dr Laurie Marker. As part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, the Cat Specialist Group and other specialist groups recommended the South African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) for the programme. This is because it still has the largest population. Marker is a member of the Cat Specialist Group.
Since the conference, the Indian authorities have been busy making thorough preparations for the reintroduction. In other words, identifying an area that is suitable for the cheetah. Preparing it as an optimal habitat. And making sure that it will offer sufficient food.
With top speeds of over 100 km/h, the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. The IUCN lists it as an endangered species on its red list. Experts estimated the global population at around 7,500 cheetahs in 2017. Namibia being home to the largest population. According to Marker, it consists of about 1,500 animals.
The main problems for the cheetah throughout its range are habitat loss, human-animal conflicts and the illegal trade in wildlife products. The CCF works with concerned parties throughout its range to protect the animal.
Namibian holidaymakers can learn more about the cheetah at the CCF's research and education centre northeast of Otjiwarongo. It is also found in the private nature parks of Gondwana Collection Namibia in the Kalahari down to the Fish River Canyon. In the Gondwana Namib Park in the Namib Desert, a mother with three cubs was recently spotted as she came to drink at a watering hole, which was watched by hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide via a web camera on YouTube ("NamibiaCam").
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