African cheetahs could be brought to India within the next three years, says Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.

He has just returned from a trip to South Africa, one of the potential source-habitats of cheetahs to be moved to India.

“We have zeroed in on South Africa, Namibia and Kenya and we are talking to all of them…So, I took this opportunity to visit the Cheetah Outreach near Cape Town,” Mr. Ramesh said. “The South Africans have the best technical expertise.”

The cheetah is the only large mammal to become extinct in India in the last millennium, according to Mr. Ramesh, who is on a mission to reintroduce the big cat to central India — even against the wishes of a tiger lobby which is reportedly sceptical.

“They say if you can't look after the tiger, how will you protect the cheetah?” Mr. Ramesh said. “I believe that just as the tiger is a symbol of the forest habitat, the cheetah symbolises our vanishing grasslands…It's a valuable icon.”

The Wildlife Institute of India is spearheading the project, and will unveil a road map and destination for the African cheetahs — possible options are in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat — by the end of May.

“It's a three-year project,” said Mr. Ramesh. “It will be the first trans-border wild-to-wild relocation attempt for the cheetah.”

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