Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi released several of eight African cheetahs onto the grassland of Kuno National Park in central India on Saturday, September 17, which coincides with his birthday.
The release of the big cats – the fastest land animal on Earth – is the culmination of a 13-year effort to restore a species that vanished from India some 70 years ago, Reuters reported. The cheetahs arrived at their final destination after an 8,000 km journey from Namibia that drew criticism from some conservationists.
The cats will be released to run through 5,000 square km of forest and grassland if all goes well with their acclimation to Kuno National Park where they will share the landscape with leopards, sloth bears and striped hyenas.
Based on Reuters report, another 12 cheetahs are expected to join the fledgling Indian population next month from South Africa.
India hopes to eventually grow the population to around 40 cheetahs as it struggles to collect more funds for the 910-million-rupee ($11.4 million) project.
Quoted in a report by Reuters, Modi called for people to be patient as the cats adjust. “For them to be able to make Kuno National Park their home, we’ll have to give these Cheetahs a few months’ time,” he said.