Twelve cheetahs arrived in India from South Africa on Saturday as part of a project to reintroduce the animals in the Asian country. Critics have warned the cheetahs may have trouble adjusting to Indian environment.
The animals are part of an agreement signed by South Africa in January to transfer more than 100 cheetahs to India in the next ten years.
The animals were sedated, loaded into crates and transported in an Indian Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft. They are the second group of cheetahs to arrive in the country. Last year, eight cheetahs were taken from Namibia and brought to India.
The seven male and five female cheetahs were supposed to be transported to India in August, but have been kept in holding pens since then.
Asiatic cheetahs once roamed India but were declared extinct in 1952 due to habitat loss and hunting. In 2020, India’s Supreme Court ruled that African cheetahs could be brought into the country as an experiment.
The twelve cheetahs from South Africa will join the cheetahs from Nambia at the Kuno National Parl in India. When the cheetahs arrived from Namibia, wildlife biologist Ravi Chellam said that cheetah cubs could fall prey to feral dogs and other carnivores in the park.
Chellam added that India does not have habitats of the size cheetahs require, and without suitable high-quality habitats, the project is unlikely to succeed.
Cheetahs are one of the oldest big cat species and once roamed widely throughout Asia and Africa in great numbers. The cheetah population in the wild has been declining in recent years.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as of 2021, the global cheetah population is estimated to be between 6,674 and 7,299 adults. The animals are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and face many threats in the wild, including habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, poaching, and the illegal wildlife trade.