Cheetahs are being reintroduced to India after 70 years of extinction

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Cheetahs are being reintroduced to India after 70 years of extinction
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In India, cheetahs have been extinct for over half a century. Next week, however, the big cats will finally return to the country.

An ambitious conservation project aims to relocate a group of cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia to India.

It marks the first attempt to move a large carnivore across continents with the aim of reintroducing it into the wild.

Over the next few years, India hopes to bring cheetahs back to several of its national parks and reserves.

How will the cheetahs be transported to India?

The big cats are being readied for the long journey that will take them from Africa to their new home in India’s Kuno National Park next week.

Around 16 cheetahs will leave South Africa and Namibia. The two countries are home to over a third of the world’s wild cheetah population.

The cats which have been selected for the transfer are young but no longer rely on their mothers so can survive on their own.

The cheetahs have already been captured after being tranquillised with darts fired from helicopters. They were then microchipped, vaccinated against infections including rabies and herpes, and rehydrated via a drip.

Vets took blood samples for DNA and then the cats were flown to quarantine facilities in their respective countries.

To transport the animals to India, they will fly in a cargo plane from Johannesburg to Delhi before being taken by road or helicopter to their final destination.

Is the journey dangerous for the cheetahs?

Experts have warned that the wild cheetahs may find the journey challenging. They can feel stressed when around humans and confined within cages.

To make the cats as comfortable as possible, they will be immobilised with tranquillisers while they are moved into the crates.

Rodrigo Ardilha via Unsplash
Cheetahs are being reintroduced to India’s national parks for the first time since 1952. - Rodrigo Ardilha via Unsplash

Once inside, they will be woken up but administered a mild sedative to ensure they remain calm during the journey.

The cheetahs will not be given anything to eat for two days before the journey or during the transfer to avoid the animals falling sick and potentially choking on their vomit.

How will the cheetahs be reintroduced into the wild?

On arrival, the cats will be put into quarantine for a month in a fenced area within the national park. After that, they will be allowed to roam freely in the 115,000 hectare reserve.

The cheetahs face some risks in the park, however, including leopards that can kill cubs.

The India-bound cats have encountered threats like leopards, lions, hyenas and wild dogs in Africa, but in their new home they will also meet sloth bears and wolves.

As for prey, they will hunt deer, Indian gazelles and four-horned antelope.

How will India safeguard the new cheetah population?

Conservationists have warned that the project may be unsuccessful as India’s cheetah habitats are dwindling. Habitat loss was one of the major causes of their extinction in 1952.

Officials are optimistic, however, and say that Kuno national park can provide the big cats with sufficient space and prey.

Over the next five to six years, India also hopes to import 50 to 60 more cheetahs and reintroduce them to a handful of parks and reserves across the country. The animals will be swapped around to ensure genetic diversity.

There are only around 12 Asiatic cheetahs remaining in the wild which live in Iran and are highly inbred.

Although transferring cheetahs from Africa will mean hybridising the native population, it will hopefully save these animals from complete extinction.

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