A cheetah in South Africa’s wild. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images)
SEVEN decades since they were hunted to extinction by the British colonists, cheetahs are set to return in India, thanks to their reintroduction in the country’s wild from southern Africa.
The action plan for the project, which was conceived in 2009, was released last week.
According to The Telegraph, the UK, nearly a dozen African cheetahs will be shifted from South Africa and Namibia to their new address in a big national park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
“The primary aim is to establish a free-ranging population of cheetahs in and around Kuno National Park,” Indian environment minister Bhupender Yadav said.
Unveiling the action plan, Yadav said prime minister Narendra Modi is keen on the protection and conservation of seven major big cats, including Cheetah. “Project Cheetah aims to bring back independent India’s only extinct large mammal – the cheetah. As part of the project, 50 cheetahs will be introduced in various National Parks over five years,” he said, according to a press release from the Indian government.
The aim is to eventually use the first community of cheetahs to have populations in other parts of the country and it will be the first step in restoring open forest and savannah ecosystems that could help in achieving climate-change goals, The Telegraph report added.
“The cheetah that became extinct in independent India is all set to return. In the next five years, we are looking at 35 to 45 cheetahs to be reintroduced in India,” Dr Yadvendradev Vikramsinh Jhala, who is in charge of the project, told The Telegraph.
The cheetah can sprint across open grasslands at a speed of 70 miles per hour when going after the prey. The very name ‘cheetah’ (Acinonyx Jubatus Venaticus) originates from Sanskrit which means ‘the spotted one’.
Once, they were present in India in large numbers with Mughal emperor Akbar recorded to have owned 1,000 of them. But their numbers plummeted during the British era due to hunting and diminishing habitats, according to Qamar Qureshi, the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun in the northern state of Uttarakhand. He said the cats were often killed because they killed livestock.
The British loved hunting cheetahs and the unrestrained killing of the animal led to an irreversible decline and in 1952, the Indian government said the country did not have any more cheetah left.
Most of the world’s 7,000 cheetahs are now found in southern African nations such as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
India made several attempts to reintroduce Asiatic cheetahs from Iran but the West Asian country did not cooperate due to the dwindling number of the beasts in its own territory.
India of late has earned a reputation in successful conservation, especially by doubling its tiger population to nearly 3,000 since 2006.