BELA-BELA, South Africa (AP) – South Africa is bringing cheetahs to India and Mozambique as part of ambitious efforts to reintroduce the distinctively spotted cats to regions where their population has declined.
Four cheetahs caught on reserves in South Africa were flown to Mozambique this week after being quarantined for about a month and released for travel. Conservationists are preparing to bring 12 more cheetahs, considered the world’s fastest land mammals, to India in October.
Speaking to the Associated Press shortly after those heading to Mozambique were tranquilized and placed in crates, wildlife veterinarian Andy Frasier said relocations are difficult for the animals.
“It’s a very stressful process for cats to be in a boma environment (cattle enclosure) because they have nowhere to go while we shoot them,” Frasier said of shooting the cats with tranquilizer darts.
“We need to use our medication doses very carefully and make sure we give them enough medication to safely anesthetize them,” he said.
“They’ve woken up well in their boxes and are all relaxed enough that we can make them happy in their transport,” he said.
Frasier said the team is preparing for the biggest and most challenging relocation of cheetahs to India, which will require the cats to travel a much greater distance with stops at commercial airports.
These cheetahs would be treated with a tranquilizer that lasted three to five days during the trip, he said.
There are two subspecies of cheetahs. Those that once roamed Asia were declared extinct in India in 1952 and are now found only in Iran. Since then, there have been efforts to reintroduce these cats to the savannas of India. Initially, the plan was to bring cheetahs from Iran, but now they are being transferred from countries in southern Africa.
In this resupply effort, Namibia is contributing eight cheetahs that will be taken to India this month, according to Vincent van der Merwe, manager of the Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative. South Africa will send 12 more cheetahs to India in October, he said.
“For a long-term genetically viable population in India, you need at least 500 individuals, so every year we will send eight to 12 animals, to complete them, increase the number, bring in new genetics until they have a viable population. . population,” said van der Merwe.
Indian officials say the move will help global cheetah conservation efforts, as their range in Africa is limited. The plan is for the cats to be kept in large enclosures in the forests of central India, protected from other predators such as leopards or bears, so they have time to get used to their new home. The enclosures have prey — such as deer and antelope — that scientists expect cheetahs to hunt. After a few months of close monitoring, the cheetahs will be placed on radio collars and released.
The Southern African countries of South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe still have significant populations of cheetahs and are expected to play a significant role in their reintroduction to India following the first shipments this year.
South Africa’s cheetah population is expanding at a rate of about 8% a year, allowing the country to move about 30 of the big cats to other game reserves in South Africa and export some to other countries, van said. der Merwe.
Conservationists say Mozambique’s Zambezi River Delta had a significant population of cheetahs, which was drastically reduced by rampant poaching and because lions and leopards preyed on the smaller cats.
In this week’s operation, the two adult male and two female cheetahs were tranquilized in the Limpopo province of northern South Africa and then transported to Mozambique’s Marromeu National Reserve in the Zambezi Delta region.
Magome contributed from Johannesburg. AP journalist Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi, India contributed.