India has committed to setting aside three grassland sanctuaries to bring cheetahs back to the subcontinent.
This is the country’s most recent move in showing it is serious about protecting its native big cat species. Earlier this year, India announced it would work with the World Wildlife Fund to protect dwindling tiger populations.
Cheetahs vanished from India in 1967 after decades of intense hunting pressure. Now the country is seeking to put right the wrongs of the past.
“The return of the cheetah would make India the only country in the world to host six of the world’s eight large cats and the only one to have all the large cats of Asia,” M.K. Ranjitinsh of Wildlife Trust of India said in an interview with the Press Trust of India news agency.
The country’s Ministry of Environment and Forests arranged to import 18 cheetahs from either Africa or the Middle East, the only two regions that currently support wild cheetah populations.
Officials will supply six cheetahs each to the two wildlife sanctuaries Kuno-Palpur and Nauradehi in central India, as well as Shahgarh Landscape in the north-western India.
Cheetahs, like tigers, are critically endangered. There are only around 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild. These yellow spotted cats are the world’s fastest animal – they can run at speeds up to 70 miles per hour over short distances.
But they are solitary creatures and highly territorial, which is why Indian authorities are initially only inserting six cheetahs into each park, even though two of the reserves could support up to 80 cats.
The Indian government is spending 30 million rupees (approximately $600,000) on restoring the sites before the animals arrive. Part of the restoration process involves relocating 23 permanent human settlements, in addition to a collection of nomadic communities, out of the nature reserves.
Forcing a handful of communities to relocate, according to the government, is a small price to pay in return for reinstating the cheetahs and protecting vast regions of India’s grasslands.
Moreover, India’s government hopes that the nature reserve upgrades will bolster tourism.