The much-awaited arrival of African cheetahs to India may be timed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday on September 17, suggests a statement by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan on Tuesday.
Addressing a gathering of officials prior to a meeting of the State Cabinet, Mr. Chauhan is heard saying: “It is the Prime Minister’s birthday on the 17 th of September and I’m happy to convey that he will be in Madhya Pradesh. The cheetahs are expected to arrive on that day and we will be organising a function in Kuno Palpur on that day to mark their arrival in his presence.”
A video grab of Mr. Chauhan announcing this was available on his official Twitter feed. Kuno-Palpur is the forest reserve expected to house the cheetahs.
A person closely connected to the cheetah translocation project told The Hindu, on condition of anonymity, that “as of today this is the plan.” Eight animals sourced from Namibia and currently quarantined in South Africa for medical evaluation are expected to arrive in India this month.
The translocation of cheetahs, as The Hindu has earlier reported, has missed multiple unofficial deadlines due to factors ranging from the animal’s enclosures not being fully readied, to diplomatic formalities involving South Africa and India not being completed.
India’s action plan, a long-term translocation project made public this February, on re-establishing the cheetah — extinct since 1952 in India — states that a cohort of around 10-12 young would be imported from Namibia and South Africa as a founder stock during the first year.
Once the cheetahs arrive, they are expected to be housed in ‘predator-proof’ enclosures that are 6-7 square kilometres large. This is part of the plan to help the animals acclimatise to Indian conditions. However, a local obstacle to the cheetah was that the current enclosures in Kuno-Palpur had five leopards all of whom needed to be relocated as it was inadvisable to have the two species coexist during the cheetah’s acclimatisation.
Over time, says the action plan by the Centre, cheetah and leopard populations will be able to coexist. The initial batch of cheetahs and their potential offspring will be radio-collared and tracked for at least 10 years.
The quest to have cheetahs in India spans more than a decade with the initial plan to translocate Asian cheetahs from Iran having come to naught and the United Progressive Alliance leadership in 2011 deciding to look at the related species of African cheetah from South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania.
Matters accelerated after the Supreme Court in 2020 cleared a pilot project to introduce the African cheetah from Namibia into India and appointed a three-member committee to oversee it.