The reintroduction of eight cheetahs in the wild in India last week after they were translocated from Namibia was preceded by unsuccessful attempts in the country to breed these big cats brought from abroad including from Singapore to Gujarat's Sakkarbaug Zoo in March 2009, officials said on Monday.
On September 17, the world's most ambitious translocation project to re-introduce cheetahs in India hit the ground running after Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight of the felines in the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The wild cats were airlifted from Namibia in southern Africa.
Recalling the efforts made by the Gujarat government in 2009, state forest department officials said two pairs of cheetahs were brought from the Singapore Zoo in exchange for an Asiatic lion and two lionesses.
They were accommodated at the Sakkrbaug Zoo, the country's oldest such facility, in Junagadh on March 24, 2009, after a public function presided over by the then chief minister Narendra Modi, they said.
The pairs failed to mate till 2012 and a proposal for an assisted reproduction effort under an expert embryologist from Scotland could not be implemented due to the age of the felines, according to a note from Sakkarbaug Zoo assistant director Nirav Makwana.
"The two pairs of cheetahs were brought from Singapore Zoo under an exchange programme in March 2009. In fact, because of good management practice and veterinary care (in Sakkarbaug Zoo), the pairs lived till the age of 12 in captivity."
The Singapore Zoo had 2006 put a proposal to get Asiatic lions from Sakkarbaug Zoo in exchange for African cheetahs, and this was approved by the Central Zoo Authority of India in August that year, the note said.
"The two pairs arrived in the country in March 2009, after a gap of 63 years, in exchange for a lion and two lionesses. The two pairs died of natural causes after attaining the age of 12. The last one died in 2017," Aradhana Sahu, Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Junagadh, said.
At the event on May 24, 2009, in which the two pairs were introduced in the zoo in Junagadh, Modi had told reporters it was part of the state government's efforts to breed them successfully in the country.
"We have brought two male and two female cheetahs from Singapore in exchange for lions. Our effort is to get success in their breeding," he had said then, and exuded confidence they would become the new area of interest for animal lovers in Gujarat.
The official announcement of the Asiatic cheetahs going extinct from India was made in 1952, the note said, adding this species is now only seen in Iran.
In the 1980s, several zoos in India received African cheetahs from facilities abroad but efforts to get them to breed in captivity were unsuccessful due to changes in their diet, environment, and other constraints in breeding, it added.