Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to release eight cheetahs which are being brought from Namibia to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh on his birthday on September 17.
The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been completely wiped out from India, mainly due to its use for racing, sport hunting, overhunting and habitat loss.
Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Korea, Madhya Pradesh is believed to have killed the last three cheetahs in the country in 1947. In 1952, the Indian government officially declared the cheetah extinct in the country.
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The growl of the cheetah once echoed throughout the country, except for the high mountains, coastal areas and the northeast.
Experts say the word “cheetah” comes from the Sanskrit word “chitraka”, which means “the spotted one”. In Bhopal and Gandhinagar, cave paintings dating from the Neolithic era represent the cheetah.
According The end of a trail – The cheetah in India, a book written by Divyabhanusinh, the former vice-president of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mughal Emperor Akbar, who reigned from 1556 to 1605, owned 1,000 cheetahs. The animals were used to hunt fallow deer and gazelles.
Akbar’s son, Jahangir, is said to have caught more than 400 antelopes by cheetahs running in Pala pargana, Divyabhanusinh notes.
The capture of cheetahs for hunting and the difficulty of breeding the animals in captivity has led to a decline in their population.
According to Divyabhanusinh, the British in India had little interest in cheetah racing, although they sometimes shot and speared the animals sitting on horses.
By the start of the 20th century, India’s cheetah population had dwindled to a few hundred and princes began importing African animals for racing – around 200 were imported between 1918 and 1945.
After the withdrawal of the British and the integration of the princely states into independent India, the sport died out, as did the Indian cheetah.
At the first wildlife council meeting in independent India in 1952, the government had “called for special priority to be given to the protection of the cheetah in central India” and “bold experimentation to preserve the cheetah” was been suggested.
Subsequently, negotiations began with the Shah of Iran in the 1970s to bring the Asiatic cheetah to India in exchange for Asiatic lions. Considering the small population of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran and the genetic similarity between Iranian and African cheetahs, it was decided to use the latter for introduction into India.
Attempts to bring cheetahs to the country were revived once again in 2009.
Ten sites were surveyed between 2010 and 2012. Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh was considered ready to receive cheetahs with the least management intervention as many investments were made in this protected area to the reintroduction of Asiatic lions, which is also an endangered species.
India signed a pact with Namibia in July for the reintroduction of cheetahs. Eight cheetahs – five females and four males – will set off from the Namibian capital, Windhoek, on September 16 and reach Jaipur airport on the morning of September 17, which is also the Prime Minister’s birthday.
The animals will then be transported to their new home — Kuno — in helicopters.