South Africa said Thursday that it would send over 100 African cheetahs to India as part of a plan to reintroduce the animals to the country. India declared Asiatic cheetahs extinct in 1952; habitat loss and hunting led to their extinction.
The first twelve African cheetahs will be flown to India in February, South Africa’s environmental department said in a statement, adding that “the plan is to translocate a further twelve annually for the next eight to 10 years.” The big cats will join the eight cheetahs which were flown from Namibia to India in September.
The cheetahs from South-Africa were supposed to be flown to India last August. Since then, they’ve been in quarantine. “The cheetahs in quarantine… are all still doing well,” Adrian Tordiffe, a veterinary wildlife specialist at the University of Pretoria who is part of the project, said.
Officials said the previous transfer from Namibia -a 5,000-mile (8,000 km) journey to India- was the first international transfer of cheetahs, the world’s fastest land animal. The Namibian cheetahs were released at Kuno National Park, a wildlife sanctuary south of New Delhi.
Some conservationists have criticized the project, which entirely ignores the fact that the African cheetahs are not native to India. They warn that the African cheetahs may not adapt well to the Indian habitat.
And with 1.4 billion humans living in India, biologists fear the cheetahs won’t have enough space to roam without being killed by people as human-wildlife conflicts are increasing in the country.
Many leopards live in Kuno National Park, and conservation scientist Ravi Chellam said they might attack cheetah cubs. Under the government’s current cheetah plan, “the prospects for a viable, wild and free-ranging population of cheetahs getting established in India is bleak,” Cellam told news agency AFP when the African cheetahs from Namibia arrived.