Rajat Sharma

Modi scripts history: Cheetahs will land in India after 70 years

AKB30 On his birthday (September 17), Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be giving a special gift to the nation. He will release eight wild cheetahs, aged between four and six years, into quarantine enclosures, spread over 500 hectares at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

These cheetahs, three males and five females, will be brought in a special plane from Namibian capital Windhoek via Gwalior, during a ten-hour-long flight covering eight thousand kilometres from African continent to India. They will then be taken in helicopters to Kuno National Park. The cheetahs have been fed in Namibia two days before their journey and three veterinary doctors will accompany them during the flight. The wild animals will not be tranquilized during the flight.

After observation of changes in their behaviour for three months, these cheetahs will be released into the National Park spread over 75,000 hectares.

A specially modified Boeing-747 plane, with its nose painted with the face of a tiger, will bring the eight cheetahs from Namibia to Gwalior. From there, there will be flown in two IAF Chinook heavy-lift helicopters to the Kuno National Park near Sheopur in Madhya Pradesh. Indian Air Force personnel will complete this operation within one hour.

Apart from these eight cheetahs from Namibia, 12 more cheetahs may be brought next month from South Africa. The African Cheetah Introduction Project in India was conceived way back in 2009. During the Seventies, there was a proposal to bring cheetahs from Iran in exchange for Asiatic Lions from Gir forest, but the move failed. After the new project was launched in 2009, fresh surveys were conducted at 10 locations in India between 2010 and 2012, and finally Kuno National Park was selected. In January, 2020, the Supreme Court allowed the government to bring cheetahs from Namibia and South Africa. An agreement with Namibia was signed in July this year for translocation of cheetahs.

The cheetahs were expected to come to India by November last year, but it was postponed due to Covid pandemic. Rs 70 crore will be spent on this project, out of which Rs 50 crore will be borne by Indian Oil Corporation, as per an MOU signed with National Tiger Conservation Project (NTCA). The cheetahs will wear high frequency satellite radio collars, and they will be provided ‘cheetal’ (spotted deer) to hunt inside the enclosures.

According to a study by Cheetah Conservation Fund, 727 cheetahs were translocated to 64 sites across the African continent between 1965 and 2010, but only six out of the 64 sites proved successful, based on births to mortality ratio.

The reintroduction of cheetahs on Indian soil will mark a new era in wild animal conservation. Cheetah is the fastest land animal that is capable of running from 80 to 128 kilometre per hour, as they are lightly built, have long, thin legs and a long tail. During the Middle Ages, there were thousands of cheetahs across India, but their numbers gradually shrunk because of excessive hunting.

Cheetahs were found in coastal, higher hilly areas and in the north-east. There are images of cheetahs in the cave paintings of Neolithic Age near Bhopal and Gandhinagar. Their numbers fell fast during the early part of 20th century. Between 1918 and 1945, nearly 200 cheetahs were imported, but their numbers continued to dwindle. The last three cheetahs were hunted and killed by the local ruler of Korea in Chhattisgarh, Raja Ramanuj Pratap Singh in 1947. Finally, in 1952, the government declared that cheetahs have become extinct in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a pathbreaking step by reintroducing cheetahs on Indian soil. He deserves accolades for speeding up the process of bringing the cheetahs from African soil to India.

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