Cheetahs return to India after seventy years

The Indian government has pledged to reintroduce cheetahs, classified as a “vulnerable” species by the IUCN, into the wild. The animals will be transferred from Africa.

It was 1948, and India had gained independence from the British Empire a few months prior, when the last of the cheetahs was killed. More than seventy years later, these wonderful felines will return to inhabit the country in South Asia.

India’s cheetah repopulation plan

Classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), cheetahs now live almost exclusively in Africa, with the exception of a few dozen animals in Iran. According to the latest census conducted in 2016, their population is at around 7,100 specimens. At the end of the nineteenth century there were around 100,000. Attempting to settle them in a new territory is an important step for the survival of the species as a whole.

cheetah in a tree
A cheetah uses a tree as an observation point © Ben Cranke/Remembering Cheetahs/Remembering Wildlife

While a repopulation project was attempted in the 1970s but failed, this time, according to New York Magazine, a group of eight to ten cheetahs will be transported from Namibia and South Africa and taken to Kuno National Park, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in India. However, the plan has collided with the Covid-19 health emergency that is hitting India with particular force and, considering that the animals need to be transferred and park staff trained, the hope is that the cheetah will be reintroduced into the wild by the end of 2021, with some delay to the planned schedule.

Another step in the green transition

“The venture must be viewed not simply as an introduction of a species, however charismatic it may be, but as an endeavour to better manage and restore some of our most valuable yet most neglected ecosystems and the species dependent upon them,” according to scientist and environmentalist Yadvendradev Jhala, who has been working towards this goal for years.

In the space of just ten years, between 2005 and 2015, India lost 31 per cent of its grasslands, whose role in removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is fundamental. Repopulating and protecting these ecosystems, therefore, is also important in reducing emissions, as dictated by the Paris Agreement. India’s goal for 2030 is to achieve a cut of 35 per cent in the emissions intensity of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

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