By Blassy Boben
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is taking steps to ensure the wellbeing of cheetahs brought from southern Africa, the government has told the Supreme Court, as concerns rise over the deaths of the world’s fastest land animal re-introduced into India after 70 years.
Six adult cheetahs out of the 20 imported from South Africa and Namibia in September last year and February 2023 have died since March. Three cubs born in the country have also perished.
Of those six, a female cheetah from Namibia died of an infection from a maggot infestation at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh last week.
The deaths have raised questions about the management of the ambitious project, championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with conservationists petitioning the Supreme Court over the animals’ wellbeing.
The government told the top court on Monday that the project has had its challenges but the deaths did not call for alarm, according to an advocate who was present at the hearing.
Experts are being consulted for the project and the government is exploring ways to directly disseminate updates about the health of the cheetahs, the government told the court.
Conservation biologist Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and an adviser to the project, told Reuters that the loss of some cheetahs was to be anticipated in this unique experiment, saying, “reintroductions are a hard ask”.
According to the original agreement, 10-12 cheetahs will be imported to India from African countries annually for five years, starting in 2022, at an estimated cost of 910 million rupee ($11.4 million) for the first phase of the project.
Cheetahs died out in India about seven decades ago.
(Reporting by Blassy Boben in New Delhi; Editing by Sharon Singleton)