EIGHT wild cheetahs that left Namibia for India on Friday were released into the Indian wilderness by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.
The cheetahs arrived on Saturday and were released into the Kuno National Park Conservation Area in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
This comes after Namibia and India signed an agreement to bring cheetahs to the forests of the South Asian country where the big cat went extinct 70 years ago.
According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), the eight cheetahs — three adult males and five adult females — range in age from two to five and a half years.
The Conservation Fund added that each cheetah was vaccinated, fitted with a satellite collar and kept isolated at the CCF center in Otjiwarongo.
“The cheetahs were selected based on an assessment of health, game disposition, hunting skills and ability to contribute genetics that will result in a strong founder population,” the statement said.
Laurie Marker, CCF’s founder and chief executive officer, said conservation requires global collaboration.
“For more than 12 years, I have advised the Indian government and its scientists on how to reintroduce cheetahs to the landscape,” she said.
CCF had support from the Erindi Private Game Reserve and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Marker said.
During Friday’s handover ceremony in Windhoek, Department of International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Executive Director Rebecca Iyambo said the cheetah donation is part of a cooperation agreement with India on biodiversity protection and sustainable wildlife management.
India’s High Commissioner for Namibia Prashant Agrawal said the reintroduction of cheetahs to the country is very special as India marks its 75th anniversary of independence.
“On this project we have been privileged to have a strong partnership with Namibia, rightly called the cheetah capital of the world. I would like to thank the Government of Namibia for their unwavering support of this project, which marks another milestone in our history of close ties,” said Agrawal.
He added that cheetahs are goodwill ambassadors for India-Namibia relations and for the cause of global conservation.
However, a local Indian newspaper, India Today, reported that the success of the project depends on the cheetahs’ survival.
The newspaper reported that the center has set out its success criteria for the first phase of the project, which include achieving at least 50% survival of introduced cheetahs in the first year and establishing a home range for cheetahs in Kuno so they can successfully breed in the wild .
The Indian government also plans to ensure that some wild-born cheetah cubs survive at least over a year and that the first generation breeds successfully, the report said, adding that the project would be considered unsuccessful if the reintroduced cheetahs did not survive or fail to reproduce in five years.
However, Environment Ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda said such negative reports will always exist.
“The Cheetah Conservation Fund officials are in India to monitor them. There’s a good chance they’ll survive,” Muyunda said.
He added that the perception that the government is giving away the country’s resources is not true.
“We want to diversify species worldwide. We don’t want to see their concentration only in Namibia, they need to be seen in other countries as well,” he said.
According to a 2019 report, Namibia has the world’s largest population of free-roaming cheetahs.