Sheopur (MP): Eight cheetahs from Namibia landed here on Saturday, as part of the programme to reintroduce the feline in India seven decades after it was declared extinct in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is celebrating his birthday, released three cheetahs in quarantine enclosures of the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh around 11.30 am.
After the modified Boeing 747 landed at the Gwalior airbase at 7.47 am, the felines were flown in two Air Force helicopters to Palpur near the Park.
A viral video showed the crates carrying the cheetahs stacked in what was earlier the economy section of the Boeing aircraft.
After the plane landed at Gwalior, the ground personnel were seen helping transfer the crates, marked Live Animals, to the waiting choppers.
The aircraft, which took off from the African country Friday night, carried the cheetahs in the special wooden crates during the around 10-hour journey.
Before their flight from Namibia, the cheetahs, the fastest land animals in the world, were treated with a tranquilizer that lasts for three to five days.
The animals were flown to the park in Sheopur district, 165 km away from Gwalior. The journey took about 20-25 minutes, an official said.
The cheetahs remained without food during the transcontinental journey and will be given something to eat now that they have been released in the enclosures, the official said.
A dais was set up in the Park under which special cages carrying cheetahs were kept and Modi, who turned 72 on Saturday, released three of them in an enclosure by operating a lever.
After that, other dignitaries released the remaining cheetahs in other enclosures.
The cheetahs were brought in a special flight of Terra Avia, an airline based at Chisinau, Moldova in Europe that operates chartered passenger and cargo flights.
Officials battled heavy rain and inclement weather to complete the preparations for Modi’s programme to release the big cats in their new home in Kuno.
Two days before Modi’s arrival, heavy rain lashed the Gwalior-Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh.
The Kuno National Park is situated on the Northern side of Vidhyachal mountains with an area of 344.686 sq km. It was named after a tributary of Chambal River, Kuno, a forest official said.
The last cheetah died in the country in 1947 in Korea district in present day Chhattisgarh, which was earlier part of Madhya Pradesh, and the species was declared extinct from India in 1952.
The ‘African Cheetah Introduction Project in India’ was conceived in 2009. A plan to introduce the big cat in the KNP by November last year had suffered a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
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