India has signed an agreement with South Africa to translocate 12 cheetahs to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, a senior official in the Union Environment Ministry said on Friday.
The pact was signed last week and seven male and five female cheetahs are expected to reach Kuno by February 15, he said. The South African environment department in a statement on Thursday said the plan is to send 12 cheetahs every year for a decade. India has not released any statement in this regard so far.
The 12 South African cheetahs have been in quarantine since July last year and were expected to reach Kuno this month but "some processes in South Africa took some time", delaying the transfer, according to the official. It is expected that the South African authorities will soon receive an export permit and a certificate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for the transfer of the animals, he said, adding India has completed all formalities.
Of the 12 cheetahs, three have been kept in Phinda quarantine boma in KwaZulu-Natal Province and nine in Rooiberg Quarantine boma in Limpopo Province. The flight carrying them will take off from the Johannesburg airport. Cheetah is the only large carnivore that got completely wiped out from India due to over-hunting and habitat loss.
The last cheetah died in Koriya district of present-day Chhattisgarh in 1947 and the species was declared extinct in 1952. Under the Cheetah reintroduction programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released the first batch of eight eight spotted felines - five females and three males - from Namibia into a quarantine enclosure at Kuno on his 72nd birthday on September 17 last year.
According to the 'Action Plan for Reintroduction of Cheetah in India' prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India, around 12-14 wild cheetahs that are ideal for establishing a new cheetah population would be imported from South Africa, Namibia and other African countries as a founder stock for five years initially and then as required by the programme.