‘Special bird’: Indian aircraft lands in Namibia to bring home big cats
A group of eight cheetahs, comprising five females and three males, will first reach Jaipur in Rajasthan on September 17, and then make another hour's journey to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
The Indian high commission in Windhoek, Namibia, on Thursday shared the picture of an aircraft that landed in the African nation to fly eight cheetahs who will make a new home in Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park.
The animals will be reintroduced on Saturday (September 17) after more than seven decades when they became extinct in India. The day marks the birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will turn 72 this year.
The picture tweeted by the high commission shows the front part of the Indian aircraft painted in the form of a cheetah's face.
“A special bird touches down in the Land of the Brave to carry goodwill ambassadors to the Land of the Tiger,” the Indian high commission tweet read.
The group of eight cheetahs, comprising five females and three males, will be kept in the main cabin of the aircraft with vets having full access to the big cats during the entire transit. They will not be given any food during the inter-continental flight so that the animals feel less nauseous during the long journey.
The flight will first land in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and then make another journey of an hour to reach Kuno-Palpur National Park in Bhopal, principal chief conservator of forests for Madhya Pradesh JS Chauhan said. The cheetahs will reach Rajasthan between 6am and 7am on Saturday from where they will be moved to a helicopter and carried to Kuno.
Modi will be present at the national park to welcome the big cats.
Chauhan said that the cheetahs will spend their first month in India in small enclosures, after which they will be shifted to larger ones for a few months to help them adapt with their surroundings. Later, they will be released into the wild, he added.
The cheetahs, two among whom are ‘best friends’ and always remain together, have been vaccinated and are fitted with satellite collars. Their arrival in India will mark the culmination of a 12-year coordination of Namibia's Cheetah Conservation Foundation (CCF) to save the cheetahs in the wild with the Indian authorities and scientists for the translocation project.
The deal between Namibia and India was finalised in May. Speaking about the translocation project, CCF founder Laurie Maker said that she is “thrilled” and “exceptionally proud of the work”. “Without research and dedication to cheetah conservation, this project could not take place,” she added.
The cheetah was officially declared extinct in India in 1952 after the last one passed away in 1947. One of the oldest big cat species with ancestors going back to nearly 8.5 million years, cheetahs were once widely dispersed throughout Asia and Africa. Now, the big cats occupy less than 9 per cent of their historic range, with fewer than 7,500 remaining in the wild.
The African Cheetah Introduction Project in India was created in 2009. The re-introduction of the big cats at Kuno by November last year was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, officials said.
(With agency inputs)