Twelve cheetahs have arrived in India as part of efforts to revive the species after decades of extinction.
Originally from Namibia, the feline predators were flown in on Saturday from Johannesburg in South Africa, the Indian Air Force announced.
The cheetahs will next be airlifted in helicopters from the India Air Force, and be released in their final destination, the Kuno National Park, in central Madhya Pradesh state. They will join eight cheetahs relocated from Namibia in September last year.
The cheetahs are part of an initiative by India and South Africa to reintroduce the cheetah in India, according to a joint statement from India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, South Africa.
The initiative would “expand the cheetah meta-population and reintroduce cheetahs to a former range state following their local extinction due to overhunting and loss of habitat in the last century,” the statement said.
Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952, it added.
The twelve cheetahs are all “wild-born,” according to the statement, and familiar with their natural predators. Other big cats and eagles are known to prey on cheetahs.
In January, South Africa’s environmental department said there was a plan to further relocate 12 cheetahs annually for the next “eight to 10 years.”
Cheetahs are found in southern and eastern Africa, particularly in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, and Tanzania, with less than 7,000 left in the wild, according to the World Wide Fund (WWF).
But the animals used to live much more widely. Historically, cheetahs roamed throughout the Middle East and central India as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa. Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans have greatly reduced their populations.