8 Namibian cheetah relocated to the Indian wild to avoid extinction
The Indian commissioner to Namibia calls this initiative "historic, global first and game-changing" in an attempt to revive the natural habitat for those it calls home, such as the Asiatic cheetah.
As part of a project to restore the presence of wild cheetahs after their close extinction three decades ago, officials and vets stated that eight Namibian cheetahs were airlifted to India as a donation from Namibia, after being transported from a game park north of the capital of Windhoek on Friday and put aboard a chartered Boeing 747 labeled “Cat plane” for an 11-hour flight to India.
The five females and three males, aged between two and five-and-a-half and each fitted with a satellite collar, are due to be welcomed and received by the prime minister, Narendra Modi on his 72nd birthday on Saturday, when he will open the gates of Kuno national park, a new sanctuary created for the cats to be placed in, 320km south of New Delhi - as the region is known for its abundance in grassland and prey.
The Indian high commissioner to Namibia, Prashant Agrawal, announced that the initiative is the world’s first inter-continental translocation of cheetahs known to be the world’s fastest land animal and whose ancestors date back about 8.5m years, adding: “This is historic, global first – game-changing, we are all the more excited because it is happening in the 75th year of Indian independence.”
The initiative has been cooking for more than a decade since the 1990s according to the statement to AFP by Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Namibia-based charity Cheetah Conservation Fund, however, critics warned that the Namibian cheetahs may face a struggle in adapting to and surviving in the Indian habitat given the significant number of leopards already present.
Dr. Marker added: “Cheetahs are very adaptable and [I’m] assuming that they will adapt well into this environment, so I don’t have a lot of worries.”
As India was once home to the cheetah but was declared extinct there by 1952 mainly because of habitat loss and hunting for their distinctive spotted coats, the endangered subspecies, known to have also been found in the Middle East, and Central Asia, is now only found in Iran, although in very small numbers. According to the head of the Iranian environment department in May, an Asiatic cheetah gave birth to three "healthy" cubs in Iran - the first time in captivity for the endangered species.
The reintroduction of the cheetah has been attempted since 2020 following a supreme court announcement that the African native cheetahs could be transported to a “carefully chosen location” on an experimental basis. Negotiations have been circulating for similar translocation from South Africa, per a government official on Friday, with vets suggesting 12 cats could be relocated.
It is commonly believed that an Indian prince, the Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, killed the last three recorded cheetahs in India in the 1940s and today approximately 7,000 remain, primarily found in the African savannas, and are listed globally as “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species - while in North Africa and Asia it is “critically endangered”.
Still, their existence and survival are under threat due to deforestation, natural habitat diminishment, and loss of prey due to human hunting and climate change.