An Indian Air Force (IAF) plane carrying 12 cheetahs from South Africa landed in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior on Saturday morning, from where they will be taken to the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Sheopur district, around 165 kms from New Delhi, and released into quarantine enclosures.
These cheetahs — seven males and five females — comprise the second set of big cats coming to the State, with the first group of eight from Namibia having been released into the KNP on September 17 last year at a function by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“A plane carrying cheetahs from South Africa landed at the Gwalior airport around 10 a.m.,” Gwalior Superintendent of Police (SP) Amit Sanghi told PTI.
After the clearance procedure in Gwalior, these cheetahs will be flown to the KNP in an IAF helicopter, another official said.
As per the plan, they will be offloaded at the KNP around 12 noon, after which MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union Minister for Environment and Forests Bhupender Yadav would release them into quarantine bomas, he added.
These animals had embarked on a journey to their new home thousands of miles away aboard an IAF transport aircraft from the O R Tambo International Airport, Gauteng in South Africa shortly before midnight, a project participant and expert told PTI.
KNP Director Uttam Sharma said they have set up 10 quarantine bomas for South African cheetahs. In two of these facilities, two pairs of cheetahs would be kept.
“We have completed our preparations to receive the big cats,” he added.
The intercontinental translocation of these fastest land animals — first from Namibia and now from South Africa — is part of the Indian government’s ambitious cheetah reintroduction programme. The country’s last cheetah died in Koriya district of present-day Chhattisgarh in 1947 and the species was declared extinct in 1952.
Experts said a delegation from South Africa had visited the KNP early September last year to see the arrangements at the wildlife sanctuary for housing the cheetahs. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between India and South Africa last month for the translocation of the mammals.
South Africa has donated these big cats to India. But India has to pay $3,000 for the capture of every cheetah to the African nation before they are translocated, said the wildlife expert.
India had planned to airlift these South African cheetahs in August last year but couldn’t do so due to delay in signing a formal translocation agreement between the two countries.