Environment and Forest minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday approved the country's first experiment on re-introduction of the extinct species with allowing re-introduction of cheetahs from abroad in three landscapes — two in Madhya Pradesh and one in Rajasthan.
The project Cheetah is expected to cost Rs 300, fully to be borne by the central government, and 18 carnivores are expected to be in their new homes by 2012.
"I have already spoken to Iranian and Namibian governments for getting cheetahs," Ramesh said, after giving in-principle approval to the project.
Ramesh gave three reasons for importance of country's most ambitious wildlife project.
"Re-introduction is matter of national importance as cheetah is the only mammal to get extinct from India. Its name comes from Sanskrit. And, being a flagship species it can help in reviving dry-land ecosystems."
The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), an NGO and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), a government institute, conducted a survey in 10 dry land grasslands across five states, which once had cheetah population, till they went extinct about 50 years ago.
Of them, Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary, where there is also a plan for re-introduction of lions from Gujarat, has been found to be best suitable.
"If the cheetahs and lions are introduced in Kuno, it will be a unique ecosystem where lions, cheetahs, tigers and leopards would co-exist," said M K Ranjitsingh, head of WTI.
For that to happen, cheetahs will have to be introduced before lions.
Second location identified is Shahgarh landscape on Indo-Pak border in Jaisalmer, where V K Jhala of WII said can be converted into an enclosed habitat for cheetahs by erecting a 140 kms fence. The border side of the national park already has a fence. The third location is Nauradehi sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
Both Jhala and Ranjitsingh said there are elaborate protocols for re-introduction of cheetahs from different weather zones and the ones in north Africa are most suitable for India.
"Cheetah's are being captive bred in large numbers in middle-east which can be brought here," Ranjitsingh said.
Jhala said the cheetahs, six in each landscape, could be introduced within a year of all approvals including consent from the state governments.
"To me, it will take three to four means for see return of Cheetahs to India," Ramesh said.