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Cheetahs return to India: The attempt to reintroduce the big cat 7 decades after they went extinct in the country

UPA government's attempt to bring Cheetahs from Namibia was blocked by Supreme Court in 2012 for not following rules

On Saturday (September 17), Prime Minister Narendra Modi released 3 cheetahs from their wooden crates into the quarantine enclosures of Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. A total of 8 felines were brought from Namibia under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in January this year.

A special Boeing aircraft of Terra Avia, a Molodova-based airline, ferried the cheetahs from Namibia to Gwalior in India on Saturday (September 17) morning. Following the 10-hour-long journey, the felines were brought to Kuno via Air Force helicopter.

Reportedly, the Cheetahs remained without food throughout the course of the journey. They were provided with food following their release to quarantine enclosures at the Kuno National Park.

In a viral social media video, PM Modi was seen operating a lever and opening the gates of a closed wooden crate that housed a cheetah. The Indian Prime Minister was also seen capturing images of a feline using his camera.

Thereafter, other cheetahs were released into their respective enclosures. The in situ conservation site is spread across 344 square km. In total, 5 female and 3 male big cats have been brought from the African nation to reintroduce the animal species in India after it was officially declared extinct in 1952.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan lauded the decision and informed that the historic step will increase tourism in the State. It is believed that the introduction of the big cats will help restore grassland ecosystems, open forests, and biodiversity. Moreover, it will increase water security, soil moisture conservation and carbon sequestration.

The inter-continental translocation project was carried out under ‘Project Cheetah’ of the Indian government in accordance with the guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Reportedly, the big cats that were relocated from Nambia are aged between 2 and 5.5 years. They have been temporarily housed in quarantine enclosures and fitted with satellite collars.

A month later, they will be shifted to open forest areas of Kuno National park. A large contingent of security personnel has been deployed to prevent the poaching of the big cats. As per reports, a dedicated team will monitor each cheetah 24/7.

In 2020, the Supreme Court gave a green signal to introduce African cheetahs at carefully chosen locations in India on an experimental basis. According to Project Cheetah chief SP Yadav, Kuno was chosen due to the presence of large grasslands, small hills and forests. Earlier in 2012, the Supreme Court had blocked an attempt to bring Cheetahs to India due to a violation of norms. The then UPA govt had attempted to bring Cheetahs from Namibia, but a petition was filed against it because the Ministry of Environment and Forests went ahead with the project without the required approval from National Board for Wildlife.

In March 2020, it had come to light that the extinct Indian cheetah bore genetic similarities with its Southeast African counterpart. “The study has provided first scientific evidence to begin with reintroduction process of African Cheetah into India,” tweeted scientist Niraj Rai.

While speaking about the historic feat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “People will have to show patience & wait for a few months to see these #Cheetahs in Kuno National Park. These Cheetahs have come as guests, unaware of this area.”

“For them to be able to make Kuno National Park their home, we’ll have to give these Cheetahs a few months’ time. Following international guidelines, India is trying its best to settle these cheetahs. We must not let our efforts fail,” he added.

The Congress party has meanwhile courted controversy by trying to hog credit for Project Cheetah. Despite its failed bid in 2013, it is now trying its best to eclipse the achievement of the incumbent BJP government. Had the Manmohan Singh govt followed proper procedures, the Supreme Court would not have stayed the effort.

Cheetahs have been looked upon as prized possessions by royals and elites of India. Owing to their continued packing, hunting and habitat loss, the felines were declared extinct in 1952.

The iconic picture of Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo is believed to be the last recorded cheetahs in India in the late 1940s. The big cats continue to be listed as vulnerable by IUCN and only 7000 of them are alive today in African savannas.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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