Cheetahs, the world’s fastest animals, died out in India over 70 years ago. Now a new project is trying to bring cheetahs back to India. Eight of the animals were turned loose in Kuno National Park last week.
Long ago, Asian cheetahs used to roam across India. But by 1952, they were declared extinct. One of the main reasons was that much of their natural land was taken over by humans. Cheetahs were also commonly hunted for their spotted skins.
Since 1952, there have been efforts to return cheetahs to India. Last Saturday, that finally happened. In an event timed to take place on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 72nd birthday, eight cheetahs were set free in Kuno National Park.
The cheetahs – five females and three males – were raised by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and were a gift from Namibia’s government. The cheetahs were chosen because they were good hunters and were used to being near humans.
The cheetahs that were released aren’t Asian cheetahs, but African cheetahs. There may be as few as 12 Asian cheetahs still living in the wild, and these live in Iran.
But even African cheetah numbers have been going down sharply. Currently, there are only about 8,000 left. Some scientists believe that getting cheetahs going in India again will help make sure that cheetahs don’t die out completely.
To make sure that they are all healthy, the eight cheetahs will spend the next month in an enclosed area. Then they’ll be given more freedom.
Kuno is a protected area of about 289 square miles (749 square kilometers). But there’s no fence around it, which means that the cheetahs will be able to roam into nearby forests, too. All of the cheetahs will have tracking collars.
To get the cheetahs used to staying in Kuno, at first the females will be kept in a closed-in area of about 3.7 square miles (10 square kilometers). That will help keep the males from wandering too far.
“Project Cheetah” is expected to cost India about $11 million during the next five years. The goal is to build up a population of about 40 cheetahs. A second group of 12 cheetahs is being prepared in South Africa, and should arrive in October.
But the project is really an experiment. And not everyone believes that it’s going to work.
Before the cheetah project was approved, India was preparing Kuno as a place for Asiatic lions. Some experts say Kuno is better for lions than cheetahs. Cheetahs need open spaces with hiding spots, such as grasslands. But some experts point out that Kuno has more forest than grassland.
The cheetahs will also have enemies in the area. Valmik Thapar, who’s known for his work protecting tigers, says, “This area is full of hyenas and leopards, who are key enemies of the cheetah.” He worries that there won’t be enough food for the cheetahs, and that many of them will die.
Still, India does have experience in protecting large wild cats. The number of tigers in the country has doubled in the last 12 years.
This map has not been loaded because of your cookie choices. To view the content, you can accept 'Non-necessary' cookies.