African leopards were flown to India after becoming extinct there more than 70 years ago

NEW DELHI – When a local king in central India shot dead three leopards in 1947, he killed what is believed to be the last of these creatures in the country, and it was declared extinct in India five years later.

On Friday, eight of these wild cats, the world’s fastest land animals, were flown from Namibia in Africa to India as part of an effort to reintroduce them into the country.

The number of leopards in the world ranges from 6,500 to 7,100, according to the United States’ List of Threatened Animals World Conservation Union. Africa is home to most of the leopards that became extinct across Asia, with the exception of Iran. Much of it is disappearing due to poaching, reduced habitat and loss of prey.

“To save cheetahs from extinction, we need to create permanent places for them on Earth. India has grasslands and forest habitats suitable for this species,” said Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, an international non-profit organization that has helped the Indian and Namibian governments with resettlement efforts.

Under the detailed plan, five cheetahs and three males aged between two and six years were flown on a chartered Boeing 747 from Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, to Gwalior in central Madhya Pradesh. (The organizers previously said the leopards would be sent first to northern India.) Then the animals were moved SB Yadav, head of the Indian Tiger Conservation Organization overseeing the move, said in a helicopter to nearby Kono National Park, where they will be housed.

For the first month, the animals will be kept in quarantine in a container while they are monitored for disease and adaptation. Once acclimated, they will be released into the 285 square miles of the national park.

These are the only large mammals that India has lost since independence. “It is our moral and ethical responsibility to restore it,” Yadav said.

India has seen an increase in its tiger and Fahad Population over the years, government data shows. The number of tigers has doubled to nearly 3000 between 2006 And the 2018, Although the forest area they occupy is reduced.

Yadav said India’s goal is to develop a viable population of leopards in fenced areas. India’s plan, estimated to cost about $11 million, aims to bring in about 50 cheetahs over the next few years from South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Some wildlife experts are skeptical about India.

Ravi Chelam, a Bangalore-based wildlife biologist and conservation scientist, said the project’s scientific underpinnings are “weak” and its conservation claims are “unrealistic”.

Cheetahs, even in the best African habitats, are found at very low densities of about one animal per 38 square miles. This means that Kono National Park will only be able to house seven to eight leopards, he said.

“How will a group of self-sufficient, wild and free leopards be able to establish themselves in India when there is no suitable habitat of sufficient size for them to do so?” asked Shillam, CEO of Metastring, a technology company that works in the field of environment and public health.

He said that while he was not opposed to relocation, the project would redirect resources away from India’s most pressing conservation needs, such as relocating Asian lions from forests in Gujarat, the only remaining group of this subspecies in the world. . But the Department of the Environment and the responsible state governments did not act in accordance with a 2013 Supreme Court order on moving the lions, numbering a few hundred, to the park in Kono, where the leopards are being released.

“The India Wildlife Action Plan guiding conservation over a 15-year period prioritizes native species that need a high degree of protection,” Chelam said. “We’re in 2022, and there are no signs of lions moving on.”

Preparations for the arrival of the cheetah were in full swing. On September 17, his birthday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi traveled to the national park to release the animals. Hundreds of locals attended, who were tapped to spread awareness about the animals. Local media reported that besides the watchtowers equipped with surveillance cameras, Drone teams You will watch the fishermen.

Reviving leopard groups can be challenging. In South Africa, for example, leopard expert Vincent van der Merwe has worked to increase its population from 217 in 41 reserves in the country to more than 500 cheetahs in 69 reserves in four African countries. He said that this successful approach relied on fenced reserves as well as preventing people from moving to protected areas where leopards live, and leopards from coming to areas where humans predominate and attacking livestock.

Cheetahs are not the only animals that have been moved. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which is dedicated to the conservation and management of giraffes in more than a dozen countries in Africa, has overseen successful relocations within that continent. Moving giraffes is very difficult due to their size and physiology, said Stephanie Veneti, the group’s executive director.

“It takes time for the animals to settle down and start breeding in their new environments. So post-transfer monitoring is an important part of the process.”

Anant Gupta from Delhi contributed to this report.

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