A cheetah in a private reserve in South Africa, on March 22, 2013. Photo: CHRISTOPHE BEAUDUFE / AFP.

South Africa announced on Thursday that it had reached an agreement to transfer more than 100 cheetahs to India, as part of an ambitious project to reintroduce the cats to that country.

The South African Ministry of the Environment announced that a first group of 12 cheetahs would be flown to India next month, to join another eight imported from Namibia in September.

"The plan is to move another 12 each year for the next 8 to 10 years" to help create a "viable and safe population" of the animal, the ministry said in a statement.

India used to be home to Asiatic cheetahs, a subspecies declared extinct in 1952, due to the scarcity of favorable places to live and because they were persecuted by hunters.

Efforts to reintroduce the cheetah, the world's fastest land animal, accelerated in 2020 when India's Supreme Court authorized the importation of African cheetahs, a different subspecies, "in a carefully chosen location" on an experimental basis. .

Negotiations for this agreement with South Africa were long, and initially provided for the arrival last August of the first cheetahs, which have been waiting since then in quarantine.

"The cheetahs are doing well," said Adrian Tordiffe, a wildlife veterinarian at the University of Pretoria, involved in the project.

According to the authorities, the previous transfer of cheetahs, from Namibia to India, marked the first relocation of cheetahs from one continent to another.

These first cheetahs were released in Kuno National Park, 320 km south of New Delhi, famous for its grasslands and abundance of prey.

(With information from AFP)