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Cheetahs reintroduced to India after 70-year absence

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi released several of eight radio-collared African cheetahs onto the grassland of Kuno National Park in central India on Saturday September 17, coinciding with his birthday.

The release of the big cats is the culmination of a 13-year effort to restore a species which vanished from India some 70 years ago. The cheetahs arrived at their final destination after a 5,000-mile (8,000 km) journey from Namibia which drew criticism from some conservationists.

Discussions to bring the cheetah back to India were initiated in 2009 by the Wildlife Trust of India. Experts from across the world and government officials decided to conduct site surveys to explore the potential for reintroduction.

The project is being termed as a first-of-its-kind conservation project for cheetahs, as well as for grasslands which make up their natural habitat.The transcontinental translocation is a major step for Namibia, as it will be the first time the wild Southern African cheetah is translocated anywhere in the world.

If all goes well with their acclimation to Kuno, the cats will be released to run through 5,000 square km (2,000 square miles) of forest and grassland, sharing the landscape with leopards, sloth bears and striped hyenas.

Another 12 cheetahs are expected to join the fledgling Indian population next month from South Africa. And as India gathers more funding for the 910 million rupee (USD 11.4 million) project, largely financed by the state-owned Indian Oil, it hopes to eventually grow the population to around 40 cats.

Skeptical experts however, raise some alarms, stating that India does not have the habitat or prey species for wild, free-roaming African cheetahs, hence the project will have a hard time fulfilling its aim of grassland conservation, and that conserving other threatened species, such as caracals and the Great Indian Bustard, should be the priority.

Many wildlife biologists and conservation scientists believe that the cheetah introduction project is a bid to stall the Asiatic Lions, which are closer to extinction, from being moved out of Gujarat.

Prime minister Modi however called for people to be patient as the cats adjust. “For them to be able to make Kuno National Park their home, we’ll have to give these Cheetahs a few months’ time.”

Fun fact: cheetahs can’t roar like other big cats. They only purr and meow.

— Today Years Old (@todayyearsoldig) September 16, 2022

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