Eight African wild cheetahs will be sent from Namibia to India on Saturday as part of a project to reintroduce the speedy big cats to the country. India used to be home to Asiatic cheetahs, but the animals were declared extinct in the country in 1952 due to habitat loss and hunting.
Since 2020, India has been working on reintroducing the animals after the Supreme Court announced that African cheetahs could be housed in a “carefully chosen location” on an experimental basis.
When the five male and three female cheetahs arrive from Namibia, they will initially be kept in a quarantine cage at the Kuno National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
The cheetahs will then be moved to larger spaces, and once they have adapted, they will be released into open forests in the park. The Kuno park was chosen as a home because of the large amount of prey and grasslands.
Critics have warned that the cheetahs might struggle to adapt to their new habitat and might conflict with the leopards who already live there.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem for the adults… they are very familiar with coexisting with other predators,” Adrian Tordiffe, a veterinary professor at the University of Pretoria who is involved in the cheetah project, told news agency AFP. “But we might have a situation where we have a problem with cubs’ survival.”
There are less than 7,000 cheetahs left around the world. The animals are considered vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In the future, India will also ship cheetahs from South Africa.