Cheetahs were nearly driven to extinction in India when a maharaja — or Hindu prince — hunted down the last one in the country in 1952, but a new India-Namibia effort may reintroduce the big cats back into the wilds of India again.
India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change posted the announcement on July 20, stating that the Government of India and Government of the Republic of Namibia have “entered into an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on wildlife conservation and sustainable biodiversity utilization, today, for establishing the cheetah into the historical range in India.”
In a deal with India’s Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Namibia is scheduled to send over eight cheetahs.
However, India-based conservation biologist Sanjay Gubbi told NBC News in an interview Thursday that African cheetahs are a different subspecies from India’s native Asiatic cheetah.
The African variety are “habit specialists” that require large grassland areas to survive.
Kuno Park’s 540 square miles of grassland mixed with woodland is not “the best cheetah habitat,” said Wildlife Conservation Trust PAnish Andheria.
“Ideally, cheetahs need vast areas of 3,000-4,000 sq km to run around in, particularly male cheetahs,” Andheria told the South China Morning Post.
The ideal area comes out to roughly 1,158 to 1,522 square miles, a far cry from the 540 square miles that will be given to them. The hope is that the animals will adapt.
India plans to transport 50 more African cheetahs from South Africa, but no official agreement has been made.
Intentions of bringing more African cheetahs to the country has been in the works since 2010, with the plan originally being to get cats from Iran, where they have the same Asiatic cheetah. Iran refused, however, claiming it also had very few cheetahs left.
A mere 7,000 cheetahs live in the wild globally, with most of them in African savannahs.
Some experts describe India’s efforts to be futile, saying the funding should be allocated towards other endangered species instead, such as caracals (wildcats) or wolves.