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India welcomes its first newborn cheetahs in more than 7 decades

By Tara Subramaniam and Manveena Suri, CNN

More than 70 years after cheetahs were declared officially extinct in India, the country is now home to four newborn cheetahs, India’s Environment Minister announced Wednesday.

The cubs were born to Siyaya and Freddie, two of the eight rehabilitated cheetahs brought from Namibia to India’s Kuno National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh last September as part of a government plan to re-home 50 of the big cats in India over the next five years.

Taking to Twitter, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav called the birth of the cheetahs a “momentous event in our wildlife conservation history.”

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also welcomed the announcement, calling it “wonderful news.”

The announcement of the baby cheetahs’ arrival comes just days after one of the Namibian cheetahs, a female named Sasha, died of kidney disease.

While cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952, they now roam one of the country’s national parks once again.

The group that arrived from Namibia in September consisted of three male and five female adult cheetahs, including Sasha and Siyaya, according to a news release from Namibia’s Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).

The animals were moved from quarantine enclosure to acclimatization zones in November last year and later released into the park.

In February, a dozen more cheetahs — seven males and five females — were brought in from South Africa, which has signed an agreement with India to introduce dozens of cheetahs to the country over the next decade.

Cheetahs are India’s only large carnivore to have gone extinct.

Under British colonial rule, forests across India were cleared to develop settlements and set up plantations, resulting in the loss of habitat for big cats, including the cheetah.

Considered less dangerous than tigers and relatively easy to tame, cheetahs were also frequently used by Indian nobility for sport-hunting.

Today, the spotted felines are found in southern and eastern Africa, particularly in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, and Tanzania, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

But the endangered cats used to have a much larger range. Historically, cheetahs roamed throughout the Middle East and central India as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa. Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans have greatly reduced their populations.

There are now fewer than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, according to the WWF.

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