India’s commissioner to Namibia calls the move a “historic and groundbreaking world first” in a bid to revive the natural habitat of those he calls home, like the Asiatic cheetah.
As part of a project to restore the presence of wild cheetahs after their near extinction three decades ago, officials and veterinarians say eight Namibian cheetahs were flown to India as a gift from Namibia , after being transported from a wildlife park north of the capital of Windhoek on Friday and boarded a chartered Boeing 747 labeled “Cat plane” for an 11-hour flight to India.
The five women and three men, aged two to five and a half and each fitted with a satellite necklace, are to be greeted and received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his 72nd birthday on Saturday as he opens the gates of Kuno National Park, a new sanctuary created to accommodate cats, 320 km south of New Delhi – as the area is known for its abundance of grasslands and prey.
The Indian High Commissioner to Namibia, Prashant Agrawal, has announced that the initiative is the world’s first intercontinental translocation of cheetahs known to be the world’s fastest land animal and whose ancestry dates back around 8.5 million years, adding: “This is historic, global first – game-changing, we are all the more excited as this is taking place in the 75th year of India’s independence.
The initiative has been simmering for more than a decade since the 1990s according to the release of AFP by Dr Laurie Marker, founder of the Namibia-based charity Cheetah Conservation Fund, however, critics have warned Namibian cheetahs may struggle to adapt and survive in the Indian habitat given the large numbers of leopards already present.
Dr Marker added: “Cheetahs are very adaptable and [I’m] assuming they’ll adapt well to that environment, so I don’t have much to worry about.
As India was once home to the cheetah but was declared extinct there in 1952, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting for their distinctive spotted coats, the endangered subspecies, known for having 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 Iran’s 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 an announcement by the Supreme Court that native African cheetahs could be transported to a “carefully chosen location” on an experimental basis. Negotiations have been circulating for a similar translocation from South Africa, a government official said on Friday, with vets suggesting 12 cats could be moved.
It is commonly believed that an Indian prince, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, killed the last three recorded cheetahs in India in the 1940s and there are now around 7,000 left, mostly found in African savannas, and are listed globally as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species – while in North Africa and Asia it is “Critically Endangered” .
Yet their existence and survival are threatened due to deforestation, shrinking natural habitat, and loss of prey due to human hunting and climate change.