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The special chartered cargo flight, Which is bringing 8 cheetahs from Namibia, has landed at the Indian Air Force Station in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh on Saturday morning. Eight Namibian cheetahs were on Friday airlifted to India, part of an ambitious project to reintroduce the big cats after they were driven to extinction there decades ago, officials and vets said.

After necessary formalities, including paperwork, at Gwalior the cheetahs will be flown to Palpur village in Sheopur district in two helicopters, including a Chinook, he said. From Palpur, the felines will be brought to Kuno National Park (KNP) in Sheopur district by road and will be subsequently released in quarantine enclosures inside the sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) J S Chauhan told PTI.

The wild cheetahs were moved by road from a game park north of the Namibian capital Windhoek to board a chartered Boeing 747 dubbed "Cat plane" for an 11-hour flight.

The project is the world's first inter-continental translocation of cheetahs, the world's fastest land animal, according to the Indian high commissioner to Namibia, Prashant Agrawal.

"This is historic, global first. Game-changing," he told AFP. "We are all the more excited because it is happening in the 75th year of Indian independence".

India was once home to the Asiatic cheetah but it was declared extinct there by 1952. The critically endangered subspecies, which once roamed across the Middle East, Central Asia and India, are now only found, in very small numbers, in Iran.

New Delhi has since 2020 been working to reintroduce the animals after the Supreme Court announced that African cheetahs, a different subspecies, could be settled in a "carefully chosen location" on an experimental basis.

The five females and three males, aged between two and five and a half, will each be fitted with a satellite collar.

They are a donation from the government of Namibia, one of a tiny handful of countries in Africa where the magnificent creature survives in the wild.

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