Cheetahs to return to India after 70 years

The cheetah is set to return to India, having disappeared from the subcontinent some 70 years ago. Years of negotiations and legal hurdles later, Namibia and India signed a pact yesterday (July 20) to relocate eight African cheetahs to the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The world’s fastest land animal was officially declared extinct in India in 1952.

Namibia has the world’s largest population of big cats. Its government, along with India’s, has been planning the first trans-continental cheetah relocation project for months.

Before the cheetahs are on the prowl again…

The cheetahs are expected to arrive in India on or before Aug. 15 marking the country’s 76th Independence Day. Prime minister Narendra Modi is likely to announce the arrival during his customary speech from the Red Fort in Delhi.

The return of cheetahs to India, however, hasn’t come easy. India was earlier supposed to get 20 of the animals, but the Madhya Pradesh government ran out of funds and the number had to be decreased to eight.

The lack of suitable space was another problem. “The Kuno enclosure can house 10 to 12 cheetahs. The problem is where to keep the rest,” an officer at the sanctuary told The Times of India. Besides, Kuno was also a difficult location to arrive at amid the row over the transfer of some Asiatic lions to the same sanctuary from the jungles of Gir in Gujarat.

Now, what could go wrong?

A major hurdle lies in transportation. Even though Qatar Airways has agreed to fly down the cheetahs to Delhi, the process of shifting them from there to Madhya Pradesh is yet to be finalised, according to The Times of India.

Then there is the Indian monsoon. Wildlife experts have warned authorities that incessant rainfall in the region would make relocation difficult.

Flash floods are known to sweep away even heavily built bridges, posing serious logistical problems in the process of translocation.

There are also concerns over the cheetahs’ safety. The state is already dealing with its own set of ecological challenges and is among those battling the worst of human-animal conflict.

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