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Stage set for PM Modi to release 8 cheetahs in Kuno National Park on his birthday

Cheetah Conservation Fund's renowned specialist Dr. Laurie Marker examining the potential animals to be sent to India. Also present was India's High Commissioner to Namibia Prashant Agrawal (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@IndiainNamibia)

The coming birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17 will indeed be special for him and also the nation as he will release eight cheetahs in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park which are being brought in from the African nation Namibia.

Historically it is a significant occasion as it marks the return of the feline carnivore to India which was wiped out when the last three of these animals were killed in 1952. The reintroduction marks the culmination of the efforts which started in the 1970s to bring back cheetahs which saw India signing a pact with Namibia to donate the first of the eight creatures on July 20 this year.

Of the eight, five are females and three males and they will be moved in a customised Boeing 747-400 aircraft from Windhoek, Namibia’s capital. Travelling overnight they will reach Jaipur on September 17 from where they will be flown to KNP in helicopters.

As per details shared by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia-based international not-for-profit organisation the five female cheetahs are aged between two years and five years while the males are aged between 4.5 years and 5.5 years.

Among the males, two are brothers who have been living on the CCF’s private reserve spread over 58,000 hectares near Otjiwarongo since July 2021. Interestingly, male cubs from the same litter live together for life and partner in hunting. The third male was born in central Namibia’s Erindi Private Game Reserve in March 2018 and has been living at the CCF centre since September 2020.

One of the five female cheetahs found along with her brother at a waterhole near the city of Gobabis in south eastern Namibia in a malnourished state. She has been living at the CCF centre since September 2020.

Another female was trapped in a cage in a farm close to CCF in July 2022, while the third was born at Erindi Private Game Reserve in April 2020. Her mother following a successful rehabilitation was returned to the wild a little more than two years ago.

The fourth female was found in 2017 on a farm in a malnourished condition and she was nursed back to health by workers and in January 2018 she was moved to the CCF centre. In February 2019, the CCF staff picked up another female from a farm located in the north-western part of Namibia close to Kamanjab village. Incidentally, these two females are best friends now.

The aircraft which brings these cheetahs to India has been modified to allow cages to be secured in the main cabin but providing vets full access to the cats during the flight. Capable of flying up to 16 hours, it will fly directly from Namibia to India without a halt for refuelling. This is important for the well-being of the cheetahs, said CCF.

Executive Director of CCF, Laurie Marker who will travel with the cheetahs talking to HT on the issue of adaptability said: “The habitat in Kuno is very similar to Namibia or South Africa. The prey is different but the right size, so there are no concerns with adaptability. The Kuno habitat looks good.”

Initially the cheetahs will be released in smaller quarantine enclosures where they will be kept for 30 days and later, they will be moved to a six square kilometre predator-proof holding facility with nine compartments.