India to get more than 100 cheetahs from South Africa

South Africa has reached a deal with India to introduce over 100 cheetahs in the south Asian nation over the course of the next decade, its environmental department has said.

The big cat species disappeared from the South Asian country more 70 years ago after the last cheetahs were hunted to local extinction.

The fastest land animal returned to India last year, with eight radio-collared African cheetahs being released at the Kuno National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. The wildlife sanctuary, located 320km south of New Delhi, was selected for its abundant prey and grasslands.

“An initial batch of 12 cheetahs are scheduled to be flown from South Africa to India in February 2023,” South Africa’s environmental department said in a statement. The big cats will join those introduced from Namibia.

“The plan is to translocate a further 12 annually for the next eight to 10 years,” the department added.

The Indian team tasked with bringing the cheetahs from South Africa were due to depart on 13 January but have not left, officials had told The Independent earlier, without specifying the cause for the delay.

“Due to multiple reasons, we are witnessing a delay in getting more cheetahs to Kuno this month, but we hope to expect the transfer to be completed by this month’s end or by early February,” said Prakash Verma, the divisional forest officer of Kuno National Park.

Four months ago Indian prime minister Narendra Modi cranked open crates containing Namibian cheetahs and released them into a protected and monitored enclosure in Kuno to mark his 70th birthday, part of a contentious translocation project.

The eight Namibian wild cats, which included three male and five female adult cheetahs aged between two and five-and-a-half years old, were seen roaming around the compact enclosure built to help them acclimatise to their new home in central Madhya Pradesh.

Now at home in India, the cheetahs have successfully adapted to India’s air and the different prey base available, Mr Verma told The Independent.

Among the cheetah’s favourite prey are spotted deer, sambar deer, wild boar, peafowl, rabbits and Asian antelope (Nilgai), officials monitoring the project said.

Additional reporting from the wires