If all goes according to plan, the worlds fastest land animal will soon be running wild in India for the first time in more than 50 years.
According to the BBC, five male and three female cheetahs will be relocated from South Africa to India in November.
The project is being lead by the Wildlife Institute of India. This marks the first time in the world that wild large carnivores will be relocated from one continent to another.
“Finally we have the resources and the habitat to reintroduce the cat.”
The majority of the worlds 7,000 remaining wild cheetahs inhabit South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. By 1900 cheetahs were rare in India, and the last siting of a cheetah on the Indian sub-continent occurred in the late 1960s.
Three sites in India have been targeted for cheetah relocations, a national park and two wildlife sanctuaries. The first 8 cheetahs being moved into India will be released in the Kuno National Park, which has an ample amount of antelope and wild boars for the cats to hunt.
Cheetahs are well known for their spotted coats and elite speed, touching speeds of up 70 miles an hour while racing to capture their prey.
The species has a long and regal history in India, but they were driven to extinction in the country by poaching, habitat destruction, and reduced numbers of prey species like black buck, gazelle, and hare. While India was under British rule cheetahs were also heavily targeted by bounty hunting programs aimed at reducing livestock conflict.
India has been making efforts to reintroduce the animal since the 1950s. The most notable such effort an attempt in the 1970s to reintroduce cheetahs from Iran, which was home to about 300 cheetahs at that time. Ultimately the project fell through due to government unrest in Iran though.
More recently, in 2017, four cheetahs were reintroduced to the African nation of Malawi, where the species became extinct in the 1980s. Those 4 cheetahs have now turned into 24 cheetahs, which proves reintroduction efforts can be viable.
The are highly adaptable animals says Vincent van der Merwe, a cheetah expert from South Africa. He is confident the cats can survive in India. Van der Merwe was part of the team to help assess potential sites for reintroduction.
“As long as there is sufficient prey, habitat is not a limiting factor. They survive and reproduce in high-density predator environments and co-exist with lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and wild dogs.”
However, there are concerns for how competition with other predators in India might limit the success of the cheetah reintroduction. Despite potential concerns, there is growing optimism that the reintroduction will be successful.
The plan is to reintroduce a total of 40 wild cheetahs from elsewhere in the world over the next 5 years.