India is delighted by the news that it has been given permission by its supreme court to reintroduce cheetahs into the wild after they were declared extinct almost 70 years ago.

A cheetah in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
An African cheetah in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya © Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Cheetahs were eradicated in India in 1952 as a consequence of the destruction of their habitat, trophy hunting, conflict with humans and a drop in the gazelle numbers they preyed on. They are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because there are only 7100 cheetahs left in the wild, and 90% of them are in Africa. While they once roamed parts of India in great numbers, there are only 50 Asiatic cheetahs left and they're in Iran.

A female Asiatic Cheetah named 'Dalbar' walks in an enclosure at the Pardisan Park in Tehran
A female Asiatic cheetah walks in an enclosure at the Pardisan Park in Tehran © Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

Following an application filed by India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, the court has ruled that cheetahs from Namibia can be reintroduced to the country on an experimental basis to see whether the African animals can adapt to living in India. “Delighted that Supreme Court has just given OK to reintroducing cheetahs from Namibia," tweeted the former environment minister, Jairam Ramesh. "This was something I had initiated ten years ago. Cheetah which derives from the Sanskrit 'chitra' (speckled) is the only mammal hunted to extinction in modern India."

The Indian government has been trying to reintroduce cheetahs back to the country as far back as the 1970s, and it is now tasked with identifying suitable habitats for the animal, assessing factors like prey availability and the potential for human-cheetah conflict. The Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, the Velavadar National Park in Gujarat and the Tal Chapar sanctuary in Rajasthan have been suggested as potential sites. Conservationists have been heartened by India’s success in increasing wild tiger populations over the last decade, and it is hoped that the new location for the cheetah will help increase its numbers.

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