The Indian cheetah, the favourite game-hunter of Mughal royals (Akbar had 1,000 cheetahs in his menagerie), was last seen in the wild in 1948 when three young males were shot dead by a hunting party in the jungles of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. The last captive Indian cheetah died in 1962.
Reviving the extinct cat is part of a much grander plan to clone and conserve endangered species, in particular the big cats. Scientists hope to take nature by surprise at the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species or Lacones, a state-of-the-art lab coming up in Hyderabad. "If all goes well, we believe we can clone the Indian cheetah in five years," claims Lalji Singh, director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, the prime mover of the project. It got off the starting block recently when the Indian government approved a grant of Rs 5 crore. Supported by the Department of Biotechnology, the Central Zoo Authority (cza), the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad and the Andhra Pradesh government, the project may even get assistance from corporate houses like Reliance.