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Successful reintroduction: African cheetahs thrive in India's Kuno National Park

India is making history: It has recently become the only country in the world to be home to six species of big cats, having successfully reintroduced the cheetah seven decades after it was wiped out. These majestic predators have found a new home in the heart of Kuno National Park. Project Cheetah was and still is controversial, but the African cheetahs seem to be adapting well to their new home. 14 cubs have already seen the light of day in India.

African cheetah in India
African cheetah in India


India shows courage: first transcontinental reintroduction of a large predator

In a bold move, the Indian government has decided to reintroduce the cheetah to the central Indian plains of Kuno National Park. South African cheetahs have been chosen for "Project Cheetah", since the Asiatic subspecies is on the verge of extinction in its last stronghold in Iran and has been wiped out everywhere else. The two more closely related subspecies from northeastern and northwestern Africa are also highly endangered and therefore not eligible for reintroduction. Project Cheetah is a small revolution in the history of nature conservation: never before has a large predator been reintroduced across two continents, let alone with another subspecies. The criticism is correspondingly great many well-known conservationists have spoken out against the reintroduction. Are they justified?


14 cubs born: African cheetahs seem to adapt well to their new home in India

Since the release of 8 Namibian cheetahs in September 2022 and another 12 animals from South Africa in February 2023, 14 cubs have already been born by March 2024, with the last litter by the female cheetah Gamini alone amounting to a total of 6 cubs. This is an encouraging sign for the success of the project. However, the return of the cheetah is not without challenges and setbacks. Some of the introduced animals and three of the first four cubs died within the first few months upon their arrival. The Indian climate with its extreme heat in spring and the monsoon in the summer months may have proven too much for the animal stemming from the southern hemisphere, for whom the seasons were completely reversed. For this reason, India plans to introduce approximately 12 animals per year from eastern Africa in the yeras to come. Talks with Kenya are ongoing.

Cheetahs as hunting companions of the Mughal emperors

Most people associate India with the Bengal tiger   the national animal and pride of the country. Few know that for centuries, India was also considered the land of the cheetah. In fact, many Muslim rulers kept tame Asiatic cheetahs, which they used to hunt gazelles and antelopes. These trained cheetahs were also known as "hunting leopards". This confusing term may have contributed to the fact that cheetahs are still often confused with the much more powerful leopards with which they share territory in both Africa and India.


The extinction of the cheetah in India and (almost) all of Asia

The ruthless shooting and massive destruction of habitat caused by the explosive growth of the population led to the extinction of the Asiatic cheetah in India in the mid-20th century. To this day, it holds the dubious title of being the only significant animal species India ever lost. Unfortunately, the Asian sprinter cats, which need vast unused grasslands or savannahs to survive, fared no better in the rest of their vast range from the Arabian Peninsula through Iran and the former Soviet republics to Pakistan. Today, only a tiny population of the Asiatic cheetah, with fewer than 50 animals, survives in Iran.


Unique India: Home to 6 species of big cats

The reintroduction of the cheetah catapults India into the absolute super league for cat lovers: no other country in the world can claim to be home to six species of big cats: Bengal tiger, Asiatic lion, Indian leopard (including black panther), snow leopard, clouded leopard and cheetah. Pretty impressive, don't you think?




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