Cheetahs make a comeback in India after 70 years

Cheetahs make a comeback in India after 70 years

NEW DELHI — Seven decades after cheetahs died out in India, they’re back.

Eight large cats of Namibia traveled the length of the country in chartered cargo flights to Gwalior (northern India) on Saturday. This was part of an ambitious, controversial plan to bring back cheetahs from South Asia. The cats were then moved to their new homes: an expansive national park located in central India, where researchers hope that the fastest land animal on earth will return.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the cats into their enclosure Saturday morning. They emerged slowly from their enclosure, scanning the surroundings continuously for signs of their presence.

“When the cheetah will run again … grasslands will be restored, biodiversity will increase and eco-tourism will get a boost,” said Modi.

Cheetahs were once widespread in India and became extinct in 1952 from hunting and loss of habitat. They remain the first and only predator to die out since India’s independence in 1947. India hopes importing African cheetahs will aid efforts to conserve the country’s threatened and largely neglected grasslands.

There are less than 7,000 adult cheetahs left in the wild globally, and they now inhabit less than 9% of their original range. The increasing population of humans and climate change are a major threat to their habitat. India’s forests and grasslands could provide “appropriate” homes to this big cat. Laurie Marker from the Cheetah Conservancy Fund is an advocacy group that helps in the introduction of Indian cats.

“To save cheetahs from extinction, we need to create permanent places for them on earth,” she said.

Cheetah populations in most countries are declining. South Africa is an exception. The cats are running out of room in this country. Scientists believe that Indian forests may provide these cats with the space they need to flourish. Dozens of cheetahs are currently in South Africa’s quarantine. They are due to arrive in Kuno National Park shortly. Four cheetahs that were captured in South Africa’s reserves earlier this month were fleet to Mozambique ,, where their population has dramatically declined.

Experts are cautious.

There could be unintended and cascading consequences when an animal is added to the mix. Mayukh Chatterjee, International Union for Conservation of Nature said that.

For example, a tiger population boom in India has led to more conflict with people sharing the same space. With cheetahs, there are questions about how their presence would affect other carnivores like striped hyenas, or even prey like birds.

“The question remains: How well it’s done,” he said.

The eight initial cheetahs of Namibia from Namibia will first be kept in quarantine at the park’s facility and then monitored for one month to ensure they aren’t carrying any pests. To help them adjust to the new surroundings, they’ll be moved to a bigger enclosure within the park. The enclosures contain natural prey — such as spotted deer and antelope, which scientists hope they’ll learn to hunt — and are designed to prevent other predators like bears or leopards from getting in.

The tracking collars for the cheetahs are being fitted and they will then be released in the park within two months. Although their movements will be monitored regularly, the cheetahs will remain independent for most of that time.

The reserve is big enough to hold 21 cheetahs and if they were to establish territories and breed, they could spread to other interconnected grasslands and forests that can house another dozen cheetahs, according to scientists.

There is only one village with a few hundred families still residing on the fringes of the park. Indian officials stated that they would be moving soon and will compensate any livestock losses due to the cheetahs. The project is estimated to cost $11. 5 million over five years, including $6. 3 million that will be paid for by state-owned Indian Oil.

The continent-to-continent relocation has been decades in the making. Asiatic Cheetahs were the original cats to roam India. They are genetically different from those found in Africa, and their range extended all the way to Saudi Arabia.

India had hoped to bring in Asiatic cheetahs, but only a few dozen of these survive in Iran and that population is too vulnerable to move.

Many hurdles remain including the existence of other predators like leopards in India that could compete with cheetahs. Pamela Burger, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, stated conservation geneticist.

“It would be better to conserve them now where they are than to put effort in creating new sites where the outcome is questionable,” she said.

Dr. Adrian Tordiffe from South Africa, is a specialist in veterinary wildlife and said that the animals require a hand. He added that conservation efforts in many African countries hadn’t been as successful, unlike in India where strict conservation laws have preserved big cat populations.

“We cannot sit back and hope that species like the cheetah will survive on their own without our help,” he said.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.

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