A key global experiment in conservation has seen eight cheetahs relocated from Namibia and South Africa to a national park in Madhya Pradesh state in India.
India’s former population of Asiatic cheetahs was declared extinct within the country 70 years ago and this relocation is the first time a large carnivore was moved from one continent to another to be reintroduced into the wild.
Studies show that at least 200 cheetahs were killed in India, largely by sheep and goat herders, during the colonial period. It is the only large mammal to become extinct after the country gained independence in 1947.
In five to six years, India plans to import and locate 50 to 60 cheetahs in half-a-dozen reserves and parks across the country and move the animals around for genetic and demographic diversity.
However, leading conservationists have harboured doubts about the plan fearing that with the haste to bring back the cheetahs, India will end up housing the animals in semi-captive conditions in huge, secured open air zoos rather than allowing them to live free.
They add that without restoring habitat and prey base, and given the high chances of a man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations cannot be established.