Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally began Project Cheetah on Saturday, September 17, when he released African cheetahs at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The big cats, once companions of Mughal rulers on hunts, were declared extinct in the country in 1952.
While many people were amazed by seeing cheetahs on Indian soil, for the first time since 1947, when the last Asiatic cheetahs of India were killed by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya, Surguja, of present-day Chattisgarh, a strange fact also appeared regarding the animals’ travel to their new home.
The Namibian cheetahs were not fed during their flight from Africa to Gwalior, India. They were transported on a Boeing 747 aircraft to Gwalior before they were taken to the Kuno National Park on a Chinook helicopter. The cheetahs were only given food after they arrived at the sanctuary.
The decision to not feed the cheetahs was because of a mandate, which states that an animal should be on an empty stomach before beginning a long journey, as a precaution, JS Chauhan, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), told PTI.
He also revealed that officials from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change kept in contact with their Namibian counterparts regarding transportation.
According to the forest officer, the cheetahs will be kept in a small enclosure for a month, before moving to a bigger one for the next few months. This will be done so the felines can get familiar with their surroundings and later, they will be finally released permanently to the jungle.
Project Cheetah, which was approved by the Supreme Court in January 2022, will ensure the reintroduction of almost 50 African cheetahs in India in the next five years. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has set the budget for the project at Rs 96 crore while Indian Oil has announced an additional amount of Rs 50 crore.