Their mother was one of 20 cheetahs flown in from Africa as part of an ambitious plan to reintroduce the extinct animal to India.
Three of four cheetah cubs born to a big cat brought to India from Africa last year died in Kuno National Park last week, forest officials said, as a heatwave sent the region in temperature increase.
The cubs are the first born in India in more than 70 years. Once widespread in India, cheetahs became extinct there in 1952 due to hunting and habitat loss.
Their mother was one of 20 cheetahs flown to India from Namibia and South Africa as part of an ambitious and hotly contested plan to reintroduce the world’s fastest land animal to the South Asian country.
The first cub died on Tuesday, prompting veterinarians at the national park in Madhya Pradesh state to closely monitor the mother and her three remaining cubs.
The cubs appeared weak on Thursday afternoon – a day when the temperature rose to 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) – and authorities intervened to help the cats.
They were “weak, underweight and very dehydrated” and two of them died later, forest officials said in a statement on Thursday.
The last surviving calf is being cared for in a critical care facility.
Officials have not said what caused the deaths but India’s scorching heat is believed to have weakened the calves. The survival rate of cheetah cubs in the wild and in captivity is low, according to experts.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Jasbir Singh Chouhan, a senior wildlife official in Madhya Pradesh, said the causes of the cubs’ deaths are many.
“They are about eight weeks old and also underweight. High temperature, dehydration and exposure to the sun” are some of the reasons, he said.
“The fourth cub is stable and under treatment,” he said, adding that they were talking to cheetah experts in Namibia and South Africa.
In March this year, India announced the birth of four cubs to one of the eight cheetahs transferred from Namibia.
The cats were introduced with great fanfare and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the cats would spur efforts to conserve India’s neglected grasslands.
The Prime Minister was ill advised #ProjectCheetahStates
Valmik Thapar, Naturalist and Conservationist#NewsToday # Cheetahs #Here is the National Park | @sardesairajdeep pic.twitter.com/22KwuDfZu9
– IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) May 25, 2023
But of the 20 adult cheetahs imported to India, three – two females and one male – died.
Earlier this month, a female cheetah named Daksha died in Kuno National Park after being mauled by one of the big cats.
Two other cheetahs, Sasha and Uday, died in February and April, due to illness.
While the government is confident that the relocation of the cheetahs will be successful, many experts have expressed skepticism about the ambitious project to restore the African animals to the forests of India.
Fewer than 7,000 adult cheetahs remain in the wild worldwide, and they now live at less than nine percent of their original size.
Habitat loss, due to increasing human population and climate change, is a major threat.