A plan to translocate 16 of the animals from southern Africa to India is expected to take place next week, where the cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, has been locally extinct for over 50 years.
The big cats will come from South Arica and Namibia who, along with neighbouring Botswana, are home to more than half of the world’s estimated 7,000 cheetahs.
It will be the first time a large carnivore is translocated across continents with the reintroduction set to be a vast national park at Kuno in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
The dean of the Wildlife Institute of India, Yadvendradev Jhala said of the programme: “It is exciting, it’s challenging. It’s a big feather in India’s cap to restore a lost treasure.”
The 16 cheetahs are currently going through quarantine at a number of sites in southern Africa before their long journey north. They have been tested for a number of diseases as well as having their overall health monitored.
As the Kuno national park is unfenced, satellite VHF tracking of the big cats will ensure they do not stray too far from their anticipated home where they will be challenged by other large predators such as leopards and wolves.
Some in India have questioned the reintroduction highlighting the pressures on space in the country as urbanisation continues to override natural habitats.
But the move to Kuno is only the first step in plans to breed and relocate more Indian-born cheetahs in the coming years. A cheetah reintroduction in Malawi showed 80% of the big cats survived the first year after being moved and the India authorities hope for a similar or better outcome so that the 16 become the start of a self-sustaining population across India.