More African cheetahs for Kuno National Park

More African cheetahs for Kuno National Park

It’s an ambitious plan to reintroduce an extinct predatory animal species. Twelve cheetahs arrived in Madhya Pradesh from South Africa on Saturday ( Feb 18) and were released into the quarantine enclosures at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Sheopur district They have been flown to India as part of an agreement to introduce dozens of the mammals there over the next decade. These big cats will join eight received from Namibia last year.

An illustration in the Indian Express

An Indian Air Force (AIF) plane carrying the animals—seven males and five females—from South Africa, arrived at the Gwalior airport. around 10 am on Saturday.  Each cheetah was kept in a separate special wooden box during the journey.

Their journey to their new home began  aboard the IAF transport aircraft from the O R Tambo International Airport at Gauteng in South Africa shortly before midnight on Friday. After their arrival in Gwalior, the cheetahs were transported to the KNP in Sheopur, a distance of around 165 kms by road, in IAF helicopters.

Five months ago, the first batch of eight of these fastest land animals were brought there from Namibia, another African nation. This will bring the total number of cheetahs to twenty.

In 2020 India’s Supreme Court ruled that African cheetahs, a different subspecies, could be brought into the country at a “carefully chosen location” on an experimental basis.

Those who support the project say that the reintroduction of cheetahs will build up local economies and help restore ecosystems that support the big cats. How exactly this s to happen is not clear.

Sedated Cheetah

Relocation of animals is always fraught with risks and releasing the cheetahs into a park might put them in harm’s way.There is enough human-animal conflict along the periphery of the park, which also has a leopard population. When leopards meet cheetahs, there will inevitably some territorial issues which may not be healthy for the new immigrants.

Earlier this week, Uttam Sharma, director of Kuno National Park, said the big cats will be placed in quarantine enclosures upon their arrival. The 12 cheetahs have been living in quarantine in South Africa since July.

Asiatic cheetahs became extinct in India in the late 1940s because of excessive hunting and loss of habitat.

Their inter-continental translocation is part of the Indian government’s attempts to reintroduce these animals in the country seven decades after they became extinct.

The country’s last cheetah died in Koriya district of present-day Chhattisgarh in 1947 and the species was declared extinct in 1952.

Wildlife experts have raised concerns about the long quarantine periods the cheetahs are being subjected to, and say that it could harm their health and fitness.

However, Mr Sharma said that all preparations to receive the big cats “had been completed”.

Only time will tell, whether this project will be a success.