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LOOK: India and Namibia to bring cheetahs to India, 70 years after they went extinct, but conservationists are sceptical

The Kuno National Park, where the cheetahs will be kept in an enclosure, has the capacity to house up to 36 cheetahs. Picture: Ahmed Galal/Unsplash

The Kuno National Park, where the cheetahs will be kept in an enclosure, has the capacity to house up to 36 cheetahs. Picture: Ahmed Galal/Unsplash

Published Jul 29, 2022

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The Indian government has entered into an agreement with Namibia to bring cheetahs back to the country after being declared extinct in 1952.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav and Namibia Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Netumbo Nandi Ndaitwah.

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According to ThePrint, a local Indian media outlet, the plan to bring African cheetahs to India has been decades in the making, a plan which Yadav called “historic” in a series of tweets.

India had approached Namibia and South Africa to source cheetahs for the introduction plan, which has triggered scepticism among some conservationists.

According to a press release issued by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the India-Namibia MoU “focuses on wildlife conservation and sustainable biodiversity utilisation between the two countries”.

An accompanying press note says the purpose of the cheetah introduction plan is to establish a population that will “perform its functional role as a top predator," with gradual growth in the population is expected to “contribute to its global conservation efforts”.

The press note adds that the cheetah introduction plan would help the larger ecosystem and “save not only its prey base, comprising certain threatened species, but also other endangered species”, such as the caracal, Indian wolf, and birds in the bustard family.

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The Kuno National Park, where the cheetahs will be kept in an enclosure, has the capacity to house up to 36 cheetahs.

Funding for the project will come from the MoEFCC and the National Tiger Conservation Authority, supplemented by private finance through corporate social responsibility (CSR), the government has said.

Apart from cheetah conservation, the press release says, the countries will collaborate on environmental governance, pollution and waste management, and “technological applications and mechanisms of livelihood generation for local communities living in wildlife habitats”.

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The agreement was signed after much delay, reportedly because Namibia was hesitant to agree without support from India in its efforts to lift the ban on the global ivory trade imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) — to which both countries are signatories.

But conservationists are sceptical about the long-term viability of the project, with conservationists in India having cited low numbers of viable prey animals in the park, among other reasons.

Initially, the Kuno National Park was prepared for the translocation of the Asiatic Lion, but this has been overshadowed by the cheetah relocation plan in recent years.

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“If the introduction of the African cheetah is a priority, why hasn’t it been included in our National Wildlife Action Plan? "Lions are also top predators, and their translocation has been mandated by the Supreme Court in 2013,” said Ravi Chellam, wildlife biologist and conservation scientist.

“This is a vanity project,” he said.

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