India releases eight cheetahs into the wild, seven decades after local extinction

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is celebrating his birthday, released three cheetahs in quarantine enclosures of the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh around 11.30 am.
Prime Minister Narendra click photographs of a cheetah after being released inside a special enclosure of the Kuno National Park. (Photos | PTI/PMO)
Prime Minister Narendra click photographs of a cheetah after being released inside a special enclosure of the Kuno National Park. (Photos | PTI/PMO)

BHOPAL: India’s seven decades-long wait to see the return of Cheetah in its wild ended with Prime Minister Narendra Modi releasing the first batch of Cheetahs from Namibia, at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur district on his 72nd Birthday on Saturday.

The eight fully-vaccinated Cheetahs (including five females and three males, among them two male siblings) which were flown from Namibia by special cargo aircraft on Friday evening, landed at Gwalior Airport at 7.55 am on Saturday.

After a routine medical check-up, the Cheetahs were shifted in the Indian Air Force’s Chinook helicopters to the Kuno National Park (KNP), where the Prime Minister released three of them from their cages into the special enclosures where they’ll be quarantined for a month, before being shifted to bigger enclosures for a couple of months and finally be released in the wild by the year end.

The PM, escorted by MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, union forest, environment and climate change minister Bhupendra Yadav, union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia among others, captured from his 10 ft high platform stage, the historic release of Cheetahs into the Indian wild, by using long lens camera and clicking memorable snaps of the felines slowly and carefully exploring their new habitat.

Ahead of the historic occasion of the Cheetahs reunion with India (they were officially declared extinct in 1952), the PM spoke at length about the efforts that were put in for Cheetahs return to India and importance of the historic development for future.

“Humanity gets very few opportunities to reform the past to create a new future, we’re fortunate to have got that opportunity today. We’re fortunate to have got the opportunity of rebuilding that cycle of bio diversity which was broken decades ago due to cruel hunting of the three last surviving Cheetahs in the country during 1947.”

“The return of Cheetahs to India marks the full awakening of the country's nature loving consciousness. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and cooperation of India’s friends like Namibia.”

“The cruel and irresponsible hunting of three last surviving Cheetahs in 1947 in our jungles was reflective of how exploitation and destruction of nature was seen as a show of strength and modernity in the earlier centuries. It is unfortunate that although Cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952, serious efforts weren’t made for decades for their return and rehabilitation,” PM Modi said.

“But in the Amrit Kaal of Azaadi (75th year of India’s independence), the country has succeeded in Cheetahs return and rehabilitation with full energy. But this day is the result of years of efforts by our experts along with their counterparts from Namibia and South Africa, a development which doesn’t find much importance, if viewed politically,” he maintained.

“A comprehensive Cheetah Action Plan was developed by our scientists in association with South African and Namibian counterparts, our scientists went there and there experts came here, after which scientific surveys paved the passage of KNP being selected as ideal habitat for Cheetahs return and rehabilitation.”

Speaking about the significance of the historic day for the future, the PM said, “Once the Cheetahs start running fast in the jungles of KNP, it will lead to restoration of the grassland ecosystem. Biodiversity and eco-tourism will be enhanced. This will lead to new possibilities of sustainable development in this region, ultimately leading to a rise in productive employment opportunities.”

The PM, however, appealed to wildlife enthusiasts to show patience and wait for a few months before trouping to KNP for catching the treasured glimpse of the fastest moving animal. “They (Cheetahs) have arrived here as guests, we’ve to give them enough time to make KNP their new and best home. India is working hard to rehabilitate Cheetahs in accordance with international guidelines, we must not allow our efforts to fail.”

He further said, the return of Cheetahs, again draws home the point that environment for India doesn’t just signify sustainability and security, but it’s also the basis of sensuality and spirituality for us. Our cultural existence since time immemorial has hinged on conservation of environment and wildlife species.

The message of India of 21st century is that Economy and Ecology aren’t contradictory, but complementary.

“On the one hand, we’re among the fastest growing economies of the world, but on the other hand rapid progress has been made in the forest and environment front too. Since our government assumed power in 2014, as many as 250 more protected areas have been added, Asiatic Lions numbers have risen sharply, making Gujarat their major habitat. Target of doubling Tiger Count has been achieved before the deadline expires. The number of elephants have risen in the country beyond 30,000 and the great one horn Rhino which was close to extinction too has now grown in numbers in Assam,” the PM said.

A plan to introduce the big cat in the KNP by November last year had suffered a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

After the modified Boeing 747 landed at the Gwalior airbase at 7.47 am, the felines were flown in two Air Force helicopters to Palpur near the Park.


A viral video showed the crates carrying the cheetahs stacked in what was earlier the "economy" section of the Boeing aircraft.

After the plane landed at Gwalior, the ground personnel were seen helping transfer the crates, marked Live Animals, to the waiting choppers.

The aircraft, which took off from the African country Friday night, carried the cheetahs in the special wooden crates during the around 10-hour journey.

Before their flight from Namibia, the cheetahs, the fastest land animals in the world, were treated with a tranquillizer that lasts for three to five days.

The animals were flown to the park in Sheopur district, 165 km away from Gwalior.

The journey took about 20-25 minutes, an official said.

The cheetahs remained without food during the transcontinental journey and will be given something to eat now that they have been released in the enclosures, the official said.

A dais was set up in the Park under which special cages carrying cheetahs were kept and Modi, who turned 72 on Saturday, released three of them in an enclosure by operating a lever.

After that, other dignitaries released the remaining cheetahs in other enclosures.


The cheetahs were brought in a special flight of Terra Avia, an airline based at Chisinau, Moldova in Europe that operates chartered passenger and cargo flights.

The Park is situated on the northern side of the Vidhyachal mountains and is spread across 344 sq km.

Officials battled heavy rain and inclement weather to complete the preparations for Modi's programme to release the big cats in their new home in Kuno.

Two days before Modi's arrival, heavy rain lashed the Gwalior-Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh.

(With inputs from PTI)

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