Cheetah will run again in India

Generic pic of cheetah in Kenya The vast majority of the 10,000 cheetahs left in the world are in Africa

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The cheetah, eradicated in India by hunting nearly a century ago, will run again in the country, as three sites are earmarked for its reintroduction.

The government has approved wildlife groups' recommendations of two sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and an area in Rajasthan as potential homes.

The government will spend 30m rupees ($0.6m; £0.4m) to restore these sites before the animals are imported.

The plan is to import the cats from Africa, Iran and the Middle East.

Kuno Palpur and Nauradehi wildlife sanctuaries in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh area in Jaisalmer, in the northern state of Rajasthan, have been selected as the sites to house the animals.

Trophy hunters

Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh said the reintroduction of the world's fastest land animal would "restore the grasslands" of India.

Wildlife experts say the two sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh had the capacity to accommodate nearly 80 cheetahs, although 23 human settlements will have to be moved from the one in Nauradehi.

Scores of nomadic human settlements would also have to be cleared at the site in Rajasthan on the international border with Pakistan.

"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," MK Ranjitsinh of Wildlife Trust of India told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Pursued by trophy hunters and herdsmen to the brink of extinction during the Raj, the Asiatic cheetah vanished from India many decades ago.

Conservationists say less than 100 of the critically endangered subspecies remain in Iran, roaming the central deserts.

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

Critics of the reintroduction scheme in India say that without restoring habitat and prey base, and reducing the scope for man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations will not flourish.

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