Cheetahs to return to India 70 years after going extinct, first batch to arrive in August

The Union Environment Ministry will translocate the first batch of cheetahs from South Africa in August after a years-long delay due to Covid-19. Declared extinct in India 70 years ago, the first group of five-six cheetahs will be translocated to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. This is the first-ever trans-continental shifting of a large carnivore.

A senior ministry official told The Indian Express that all modalities to bring the cheetahs had been completed and the agreement with South Africa was in place. A ministry team is already in South Africa to bring the cheetahs to India and was awaiting the final clearance from the Union Ministry of External Affairs.

A team of South African experts will arrive in India on June 15 and visit the reserve forest to oversee the arrangements.

The ministry is coordinating with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Institute of India, which has spearheaded the project for the government.

Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya is believed to have hunted the last three recorded Asiatic cheetahs in India in 1947. In 1952, the government declared the cheetah extinct in India.

The cheetah is the only large carnivore to have gone extinct in India due to a combination of loss of habitat and hunting. The plan to reintroduce the cheetah has been afoot for decades. The current proposal was floated in 2009 with the Supreme Court clearing it in 2020.

The Wildlife Institute of India had assessed six sites — Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary and Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, and Kuno National Park, Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, and Madhav National Park in Madhya Pradesh — in 2010. It re-assessed the sites and found Kuno to be ready for the relocation.

Experts at the institute said 35-40 cheetahs were likely to be translocated to sites across India over the coming decades once the first batch acclimatised to Indian conditions.