After the death of nine cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa, India will now explore the possibility of importing the feline from northern Africa instead.
Officials said one of the biggest challenges they faced in the first year of managing cheetahs from the two countries was the “unexpected” development of winter coats by some big cats during the Indian summer and monsoon, which is the time of African winter (June to September). The senior official added that even the African experts did not expect it.
The winter coats caused problems when combined with high humidity and temperatures. It caused itching, prompting the big cats to scratch their necks on tree trunks or the ground. This led to bruises and exposed skin where flies laid eggs, resulting in maggot infections, septicemia and other bacterial infections that led to the deaths.
Countries including the UK and the US, have imported cheetahs from northern Africa and recommended the same to India, the official said.
Primarily, cheetahs were found in parts of northern Africa but the population declined in the region and they are now considered extinct or nearly extinct in many northern African countries.
However, the upcoming batch will be imported from South Africa. SP Yadav, the head of Project Cheetah and Additional Director General (Forests) said, “The idea that we may have cheetahs from northern Africa in the future has been discussed but the next batch will come from South Africa. ” He added that India now plans to import big cats that do not develop thicker winter coats.
A total of 20 cheetahs were imported from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno in two batches – one in September 2022 and the second in February 2023. Six of these adult big cats died due to various reasons while three cubs of the female Namibian cheetah died due to extreme heat.