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The Indian government is likely to add more cheetahs to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park (KNP). However, wildlife experts said that a delay in signing a formal agreement has worsened the health of cheetahs. According to the experts, a dozen cheetahs quarantined in South Africa for more than four months have lost fitness in their wait to be flown to KNP as a formal signing of an agreement is holding up their inter-continental translocation.

They said the 12 South African cheetahs – seven males and five females - have not hunted for themselves even once after being kept in bomas (small enclosures). Though there has been some forward movement in the implementation of Project Cheetah with South Africa in recent days, Pretoria is yet to ink a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian government for the transfer of the spotted cats to Kuna National Park.

Three of them have been kept in Phinda quarantine boma in KwaZulu-Natal Province and nine cheetahs in Rooiberg Quarantine boma in Limpopo Province since 15 July, news agency PTI reported.

“They have lost considerable fitness as they have not hunted even once since July 15," an expert said. He said that the cheetahs might have put on weight like humans sitting idle, he said, adding a running animal has toned up muscles and fitness.

Last week South African Minister of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries Barbara Creecy cleared the Indian proposal on the translocation of cheetahs. Now, the South African president will clear the proposal for a formal agreement to be signed between the two countries.

Madhya Pradesh Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) J S Chauhan told PTI that they are ready to receive South African cheetahs. "I think that the MoU will be signed shortly".

In Africa, leopards are known to attack adult cheetahs. “Leopards account for 9% of cheetah mortality in South Africa," Ajay Dubey, wildlife expert and founder-secretary of Prayatna said

However, he pointed out that leopards and cheetahs had co-existed in India for centuries before the latter became extinct in the country. Forest department officials said there were 70 to 80 leopards in KNP, which is spread over an area of 1,200 square km, including the buffer zone.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his 72nd birthday on September 17, released eight cheetahs flown in from Namibia into KNP, setting the ball rolling for the revival of their population in India where these distinctively spotted cat species became extinct seven decades ago. These wild animals from Namibia - five females and three males - are currently in hunting enclosures at the park before their full release in the wild.

As per Indian wildlife laws, a month-long quarantine is mandatory before importing animals and they are required to be kept in isolation for another 30 days after arrival in the country. According to the experts, the spotted animals' metapopulation (cheetah count in small and medium parks) in South Africa has risen to 504 from 217 in 2011.

The last cheetah died in India in the Koriya district of present-day Chhattisgarh in 1947 and the big cat species was declared extinct in 1952. Former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh initiated 'Project Cheetah' in 2009 under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government with an aim to reintroduce wild cats in India.

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