Cheetahs are being reintroduced to India after 70 years of extinction

Eight Namibian cheetahs have arrived in India in an ambitious project to reintroduce the spotted creatures that has divided wildlife experts after the big cats’ local extinction decades ago.Officials say the project is the world’s first intercontinental relocation of cheetahs, the planet’s fastest land animal. The five females and three males were moved from a game park in Namibia on board a chartered Boeing 747 dubbed “Cat Plane” for an 11-hour flight.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over the release on Saturday at Kuno National Park, a wildlife sanctuary 320km (200 miles) south of New Delhi selected for its abundant prey and grasslands.“Today the cheetah has returned to the soil of India,” Modi said in a video address after their arrival, which coincided with the leader’s 72nd birthday.“The nature-loving consciousness of India has also awakened with full force. We must not allow our efforts to fail.”

Each of the animals, aged between two and five and a half, was fitted with a satellite collar to monitor their movements. They will initially be kept in a quarantine enclosure for about a month before being released in the open forest areas of the park.

Another 12 cheetahs are expected to join the fledgling Indian population next month from South Africa.As India gathers more funding for the 910 million rupee ($11.4m) project, largely financed by the state-owned Indian Oil, it hopes to eventually grow the population to about 40 cats.

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