Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 09:51 UK

India agrees to cheetah survey

Cheetah cub with mother
Conservationists fear that cheetahs will end up in 'controlled' environments

The Indian government has approved a survey of sites which can accommodate the cheetah, in an effort to reintroduce the animal in the country.

Wildlife groups have shortlisted seven sites in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh as potential homes.

The sites include national parks, sanctuaries and other open areas.

The cheetah - the world's fastest land animal - became extinct in India nearly a century ago.

The environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh has approved a "detailed survey" of the shortlisted sites, according to a statement issued by the Wildlife Trust of India, which is leading the project.

These sites will now be surveyed extensively to find out the state of the habitat, the number of prey and prospects of man-animal conflict to finally determine whether they can accommodate the cheetah.

The survey will form the "basis of a roadmap" to be carried out by wildlife groups and concerned state governments to reintroduce the cheetah in India.

"We have been given a mandate to prepare this roadmap in four months," said Dr Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India.

"The return of the cheetah would make India the only country in the world to host six of the world's eight large cats and the only one to have all the large cats of Asia."

If one or more sites are found to have favourable habitat and prey for the cheetah, India will then possibly have to import the cat from Africa, because the numbers of the Asiatic cheetah which are available only in Iran have dwindled to under 100.

The vast majority of the 10,000 cheetahs left in the world are in Africa.

Critics of the scheme in India say that without restoring habitat and prey base and the chances of a man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations cannot be established.

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