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South African cheetahs sent to India and Mozambique

With South Africa’s cheetah population growing at a rate of 8 per cent annually, it is in a position to try and help other countries whose cheetah populations are dwindling.

September 8, 2022
By Mogomotsi Magome and Sebabatso Mosamo
8 September 2022

South Africa is flying cheetahs to India and Mozambique as part of ambitious efforts to reintroduce the distinctively spotted cats in regions where their population has dwindled.

Four cheetahs captured at reserves in South Africa have been flown to Mozambique this week after being held in quarantine for about a month and cleared for travel.

A tranquilised cheetah is loaded into a cage by wildlife veterinarian staff at a reserve near Bella Bella, South Africa. (Denis Farrell/AP)

Conservationists are preparing to fly 12 more cheetahs, reputed to be the world’s fastest land mammals, to India in October.

Speaking shortly after those going to Mozambique were tranquilised and placed into crates, wildlife veterinarian Andy Frasier said the relocations are tough for the animals.

But he described a “successful afternoon” after carefully darting the animals at the Rooiberg Wildlife Veterinary Park.

Frasier said the team is preparing for the larger and more challenging relocation of cheetahs to India which will require the cats to travel a much longer distance with stops in commercial airports.

Wildlife veterinarian Andy Frasier darts a cheetah to be tranquilised for its long journey. (Denis Farrell/AP)

There are two subspecies of cheetahs. Those that once roamed in Asia were declared extinct in India in 1952 and are now found only in Iran.

Since then there have been efforts to reintroduce these cats to India’s savannahs.

Initially the plan was to bring in cheetahs from Iran but now they are being moved from southern African countries.

In this restocking effort, Namibia is contributing eight cheetahs which will be flown to India this month, according to Vincent van der Merwe, manager of the Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative at South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust. South Africa will send an additional 12 cheetahs to India in October, he said.

“For a genetically viable population in India in the long-term you need at least 500 individuals, so every year we will send eight to 12 animals, to top them up, to increase numbers, to bring in new genetics until they have a viable population,” said van der Merwe.

Indian officials say the move will aid global cheetah conservation efforts since their range in Africa is limited.

The plan is for the cats to be kept in large enclosures in central Indian forests, protected from other predators like leopards or bears, to give them time to get used to their new home.

The enclosures have prey – like deer and antelope – which scientists hope the cheetahs will hunt. After a few months of close monitoring, the cheetahs will be radio-collared and released.

The southern African countries of South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe still have significant cheetah populations and are expected to play a significant role in their reintroduction in India following the first shipments this year.

South Africa’s cheetah population is expanding at a rate of about 8 per cent annually, allowing the country to move about 30 of the cats to other game reserves within South Africa and to export some to other countries, van der Merwe said.

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