A new batch of cheetahs from South Africa will be introduced in Madhya Pradesh’s Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, the head of the reintroduction project said on Saturday, according to PTI.

SP Yadav, Additional Director General of Forests at the Environment Ministry, made the statement a day ahead of the one-year anniversary of Project Cheetah.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the project on September 17 last year by releasing eight cheetahs brought from Namibia into Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park. A total of 20 cheetahs have been translocated from South Africa and Namibia since the project began.

However, since March, nine cheetahs have died, including three cubs born in India.

On Saturday, Yadav said that a major challenge in the first year of the project was that the cheetahs unexpectedly developed winter coats during the Indian summer and monsoon, in anticipation of the winter in Africa.

The official said that the winter coat, combined with high humidity and temperature levels, led to itching, due to which the felines scratched their necks on tree trunks or on the ground. This, he said, caused bruises and exposed skin, rendering them vulnerable to maggot infestations and bacterial infections.

“Some cheetahs did not develop winter coats and remained infection-free,” Yadav said, according to PTI. “They are better suited to Indian conditions. Therefore, in our next cheetah import, we will be very careful in animal selection. We will prefer animals that either do not develop winter coats or develop thinner ones.”

The official said that the focus of the project in its second year will be on breeding the cheetahs.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is the breeding of cheetahs,” he said. “And if we can expect more litter, the cubs born on Indian soil can better adapt to Indian situations. Once the breeding takes place, we will understand how the population will behave in our country. So, the main thing next year will be more cubs on the soil of Bharat.”

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