Bringing cheetahs back to India

About 70 years ago, cheetahs disappeared from India’s wildlife because of human development and hunting.

Bringing cheetahs back to India
Source: Pexels/Michael M

About 70 years ago, cheetahs disappeared from India’s wildlife because of human development and hunting. Cheetahs used to live in many regions where they can’t be found anymore, like the Middle East and central India. Now, India is ready to start bringing them back, rewilding nature with cheetahs. The plan is to slowly reintroduce cheetahs by flying a few in at a time from Africa, releasing them into national parks after keeping them in quarantine for a month.

“The cheetah is a magnificent animal, it’s a big magnet for ecotourism,” says Yadvendradev Jhala, dean of the Wildlife Institute of India. “If you bring in cheetah, the government will put funds into rehabilitating and rewilding these systems, and all the biodiversity will thrive.”

The process is on its second leg, with 12 cheetahs being sent over from South Africa this weekend. They’ll be brought to Kuno National Park, joining the first eight cheetahs that were relocated there last year. From now on, India plans on relocating 12 cheetahs a year to continue with its plan.

Bringing the cheetah back to India
Source: Indian government

“When the cheetah will run again … grasslands will be restored, biodiversity will increase and ecotourism will get a boost,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the first eight cheetahs were released in India.

These 12 cheetahs are wild-born, so they understand which predators to look out for and how to survive in areas like this. Unfortunately, even in sub-Saharan Africa, there aren’t many wild cheetahs left – only around 7,000, actually. With cheetah populations declining everywhere in the world except for South Africa, many experts hope India will offer the right space for building up cheetah populations.

But some aren’t so sure. There can be “cascading and unintended consequences” when a new animal enters an ecosystem, said Mayukh Chatterjee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In the past, a tiger population boom in India has created conflict with people as they try to share the same space. Rewilding cheetahs leads to questions about how they’ll interact with other animals, like hyenas, or prey, like birds.