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India welcomes cheetahs back, 70 years after they went extinct

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Eight cheetahs from Namibia arrived in India on Saturday, seven decades after they became extinct in the country, as part of an ambitious project to reintroduce them that caused division among experts.

The five females and three males, a donation from the Namibian government, were flown aboard a specially chartered plane, a Boeing 747 dubbed the “cat plane,” for an 11-hour flight.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, presided over their release in the Kuno National Park, a protected area of ​​more than 748 km2, chosen for its abundance of prey and for its grasslands and located 320 km south of New Delhi.

“Today, the cheetah returned to India,” Modi said in a video message after his arrival.

“India’s awareness of nature has also been very strongly awakened,” he added. “Let’s not let our efforts have been in vain.”

The animals are equipped with a satellite collar. Before being released, they will spend a period of quarantine in a closed area.

But there are those who warn that felines could have a hard time adapting.

Given the government’s plan, “the chances of a viable wild cheetah population establishing in India are slim,” scientist Ravi Chellam told NCT.

“The habitats should have been prepared before bringing the cats from Namibia,” he added, explaining that significant numbers of leopards also live in the area and that the cubs could be preyed upon by dogs and other carnivores.

However, Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), told NCT that “cheetahs are very adaptable.” “I think they’ll fit in just fine,” she said.

India was once home to Asiatic cheetahs, but the species was declared extinct in that country in 1952.

India also hopes to conclude an agreement with South Africa to import other specimens.

Classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on its red list of threatened species, the global population of cheetahs numbers fewer than 7,000 individuals, most of which live in the African savannahs.

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