Why India’s deal for Cheetahs with Pretoria dithered?

Due to the long delay in signing the Memorandum of Understanding between the South African Government and the Indian Government, now South Africa may exchange some 12 Cheetahs. The 12 cheetahs from South Africa will join the eight individuals from Namibia who arrived at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

The 12 cheetahs chosen for transfer have been in quarantine since July and conservationists are now concerned about their physical condition.

In September, India received eight Namibian cheetahs in the world’s largest conservation trial, which seeks to establish a free population of the species 72 years after it was declared extinct in India. The project has generated controversy, dividing conservationists around the world.

Vincent van der Merwe, manager of Cheetah Metapopulation at The Metapopulation Initiative in South Africa told Down to Earth “Unfortunately, due to several delays, we had to change some of the 12 proposed cheetahs. Which cheetahs we will send will be decided as soon as both governments sign the MoU. It’s all taking so long”.

A dozen cheetahs quarantined in South Africa for more than four months have lost fitness while waiting to be flown to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park (KNP) as the formal signing of an agreement is delaying their intercontinental translocation, wildlife experts said.

Earlier, Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Kunwar Vijay Shah said Cheetahs were expected to soon arrive from South Africa. “We have completed the first phase. After bringing back eight cheetahs from Namibia, we not only kept them in quarantine, but also familiarized them with the environment and released them into an open enclosure. Now these cheetahs are hunting and in good health.”

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Experts had told news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) that 12 South African cheetahs, seven males and five females, have not hunted for themselves even once after being in bomas (small enclosures), said wildlife experts familiar with the cheetah reintroduction plan.

Three of them have been kept at the Phinda quarantine boma in KwaZulu-Natal province and nine at the Rooiberg quarantine boma in Limpopo province since July 15, one of the experts told PTI.

They could have gained weight like humans sitting around doing nothing, he said, adding that a running animal has toned muscles and fitness.

The MoU received approval from South Africa’s Minister for the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, in the last week of November. But President Cyril Ramaphosa still needs to clear it from him so that both countries sign it.

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