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Cheetahs return to India 70 years after being declared extinct

The controversial move of reintroducing Cheetahs to India seven decades after their extermination is controversial.

In a 13-year effort to save the species, eight big cats were flown 5,000 km from Namibia.

This is the first time that animals have been transported across continents in order to be released.

The eight radio-collared African Cheetahs were brought to Kuno National Park, central India. Their arrival coincided with the 72nd Birthday of Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi who released the first cat Saturday.

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In the hope that the population will grow to 40, South Africa will add 12 more cheetahs to the group.

Experts stated that the 1952 extinction in India of the cheetah was the country’s only loss of large mammal species. It was also the first time since independence. There was an “moral and ethical obligation” to bring it back.

Some Indian conservationists called it a “vanity program” because it ignores the fact that the African cheetah, a subspecies of the threatened Asiatic cheetah only found in Iran, is not native to India.

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Scientists believe modern India poses challenges that the cheetah, the fastest land animal in the world, has not had to face in the past.

Ullas Karanth (director of Centre for Wildlife Studies Bengaluru) stated that once the cheetahs cross Kuno’s unfenced boundaries they will be “knocked out by domestic dogs, or by leopards” within six months.

Authorities are moving villagers from Bagcha, near Kuno to help the cheetahs succeed. Domestic dogs are also being vaccinated against any diseases that could be spread to them.

Image After a two-day journey from Namibia, the cheetahs were finally released into Kuno National Park.

Others agree that the promise of restoring the Indian cheetahs – which was started in 2009 – is worth the risks.

Laurie Marker (conservation biologist and founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, which oversees the Namibian component of the project), stated that Cheetahs are important in grassland ecosystems by herding prey through the grasslands and preventing overgrazing.

Sky News has more information:

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Five females and three male cheetahs arrived in Africa after a two-day flight and helicopter journey. They will be kept in restricted areas for several weeks before being released.

If everything goes according to plan, the cats will be allowed to roam through 5,000 km (2,000 miles) of forest, grassland and woodland, sharing the space with sloth bears, leopards, and striped hyenas.

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