India to get cheetahs from Namibia

If not Iranian, then it's got to be African cheetahs. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is presently working on getting wild Namibian cheetahs to India to repopulate Indian forests with the cheetah, which went extinct from India since 1967. The Namibian plan comes after Iran turned down a request by India for a pair of cheetahs.

However, the Namibian cheetah is a different sub-species from the Asiatic cheetah, and scientists warn that no translocation should be done without proper studies. The Asiatic cheetah, the fastest animal on earth, was once found all over Indian jungles, but is now extinct in India.

Now the MoEF is considering approving a cheetah repopulation plan made by big cat specialists M K Ranjitsinh and Divyabhanu Chawda.

"The cheetahs have been shortlisted in Namibia," MoEF Minister Jairam Ramesh told The Indian Express. "Iran was ready to give us the cheetahs provided a pair of wild lions was given to them. But Gujarat was not keen on parting with lions from the Gir sanctuary," Ramesh said.

"The solution will be to get cheetahs from Namibia," he said. If the plan is cleared, the cheetahs are likely to be translocated to Rajasthan. A final decision by the MOEF will be taken after a cheetah specialist meet with international experts who will be coming here to discuss cheetah translocation and survival later this month.

"We will have to get cheetahs from outside the country," Ramesh reiterated in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Earlier, the Central Zoo Authority was also considering getting zoo-bred cheetahs and releasing their third generation in Indian forests.

Scientists are of the view that nothing should be done without genetic and feasibility studies. "We are talking about a different sub-species. We need to do feasibility studies and make sure it can survive here. Further, we have to ask, why we want to get cheetahs here. This is a dry scrub species. In India, the other dry scrub species, the lions, has already shrunk to a tiny stronghold in Gujarat and tigers are also losing out. We need to be firm that we can protect all animals before any attempts at re-population," said a scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India, which has carried out tiger translocations in India.

The last two Indian Cheetahs were sighted in 1967-68 in Chattisgarh.

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