South Africa is sending cheetahs to India and Mozambique as part of an ambitious effort to reintroduce the wild cats that have since been declining in both countries.
Four cheetahs captured in South African reserves were flown to Mozambique this week after being quarantined for nearly a month and allowed to travel.
Conservationists are preparing to transport 12 more cheetahs, known as the world’s fastest land mammals, to India in October.
Speaking to the Associated Press shortly after those heading to Mozambique were pacified and boxed in, wildlife veterinarian Andy Fraser said the transfers were difficult for the animals.
Fraser said the team is preparing for a larger and more demanding translocation of the cheetahs to India, which will require the cats to travel much greater distances, with stops at commercial airports. He added that these leopards would be treated with a sedative during the three to five-day journey.
There are two subspecies of cheetahs. Sadly those that roamed Asia were declared extinct in India in 1952 and are now found only in Iran.
Since then, there have been efforts to bring these cats back to the Indian savannah. Originally, it was planned to bring cheetahs from Iran, but now they are being transported from South African countries.
According to Vincent van der Merwe, director of the Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative, Namibia is contributing eight cheetahs to this resupply, which will be translocated to India this month.
He said South Africa will send 12 more cheetahs to India in October.
Indian officials say the move will help global efforts to protect cheetahs, given their limited range in Africa.
The plan is to keep the wildcats in large flocks in the forests of central India, safe from other predators such as leopards or bears, to give them time to adapt to their new home.
The enclosures contain prey — such as deer and antelope — that scientists hope cheetahs will hunt. After several months of intensive observation, the cheetahs are radio captured and released.
South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe still have large populations of cheetahs and are expected to play an important role in their reintroduction to India after the first shipments this year.
Van der Merwe said South Africa’s leopard population is growing by about 8% a year, allowing the country to relocate around 30 of the wildcats to other game reserves in South Africa and export some to other countries.
Conservationists said Mozambique’s Zambezi River Delta region has a large leopard population that has declined significantly due to rampant poaching and the fact that lions and leopards prey on cubs.
This week, adult male and female cheetahs were pacified in the Limpopo province of northern South Africa and then transferred to Mozambique’s Maromeo National Reserve in the Zambezi Delta.