Cheetah populations around the world are declining. There are less than 7000 adult cheetahs in the wild as their habitats are decreasing due to increased human population and climate change. Much of the grasslands where the cats live have been transformed into farmland. In 1952, cheetahs became the first and only animal predator to die out in India. Once seen in India, the Asiatic cheetah is now only found in Iran but is listed as critically endangered. Discussions to bring back the cheetahs to India were in the works soon after the extinction was confirmed. The Indian government made proposals for introducing African cheetahs as early as the 1980s but were disallowed by India’s supreme court. The decision was reversed in 2020 to allow a small number of cheetahs into the country on an experimental basis for long-term adaptation.
In the world’s first intercontinental relocation of cheetahs, South Africa will ship about 100 cats to India over the next decade. The cats will end up in central India’s Kuno National Park, a wildlife sanctuary known for its abundant prey and grasslands. The reintroduction of the cheetahs into India will not only help the country house an important animal, but it will help relieve some pressure on South African reserves where the animals are numerous. This reintroduction will also help to boost overall cheetah numbers worldwide.
African cheetahs were chosen for this relocation project because they are similar to the Asiatic cheetah once found in India. The Asiatic cheetah, now only found in Iran, was not selected because experts feared they wouldn’t survive past the translocation, which would threaten their populations even more.
In 2022, eight Namibian cheetahs, five of which were female, arrived in India. More than six months after their arrival, India announced the birth of four cubs to one of these eight cheetahs. These are the first cheetahs born in the country in over 70 years. The mother and cubs will be kept in the enclosure until the cubs are older and stronger. Then, they will all be released into the wild.
Twelve more cheetahs from South Africa were introduced to India earlier this year. Conservationists hope they will mate with the Namibian cheetahs to improve the survivability of the species. Healthy cheetahs from distant populations will likely produce stronger cubs with less disease.
The birth of the cubs and the continuous reintroduction of the cheetahs to India mark a big step in the mission to revive its population in Indian jungles. These animals will help restore India’s open forest and grassland ecosystems. This will help conserve biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services like water security, carbon sequestration and soil moisture conservation, and benefit society.