70 Years After Extinction, India Is Bringing Cheetahs Back

The first 8 will arrive from Namibia next month
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2022 9:31 AM CDT
After 70 Years, Cheetahs Are Returning to India
Cheetahs can reach speeds of 70mph.   (Ronda Gregorio, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The cheetah is the world's fastest land mammal, but bringing them back to India has been a slow process. The country's native population of cheetahs was declared extinct in 1952 and while efforts to reintroduce them started the same decade, only now are solid plans in place to restore a viable population, the BBC reports. Eight cheetahs will arrive at Kuno-Palpur National Park in Madhya Pradesh state—chosen for its favorable terrain—from Namibia next month, in time for the 75th anniversary of India's independence from Britain.

India's supreme court decided in 2020 that African cheetahs could be brought to a "carefully chosen location," the Guardian reports. The native population of Asiatic cheetahs was wiped out by habitat loss and poaching and while reintroducing the same subspecies would have been ideal, only a dozen of them are believed to remain in the wild, all in Iran. A plan to bring Asiatic cheetahs to India from Iran in the 1970s, when there were a lot more of them, fell apart after the Iranian Revolution. Asiatic cheetah could once be found all the way from the Arabian peninsula to Afghanistan.

Officials say the predator, the only large mammal to go extinct in India since independence, played a vital role in forest and savannah ecosystems and bringing them back to their historic range will help "rekindle the ecological dynamics of the landscape." Reintroducing the flagship species has been "a larger goal of re-establishing ecological function in Indian grasslands that was lost due to extinction of Asiatic cheetah," tweeted Bhupender Yadav, the country's environment minister. (Read more cheetah stories.)

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