Sheopur: The eight cheetahs, shifted from Namibia to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park (KNP) on September 17, are "fantastic" and "frolicking" around by feasting on buffalo meat while in quarantine, forest officials have said.
A task force constituted by the Centre will meet on Monday, when the spotted animals complete a month in their new home, to take a call on shifting them to a "soft release or acclimatisation enclosure" spread over an area of five sq km, they said.
"We think the cheetahs may be released into the wild in a month or two or more," officials said.
The task force was set up to monitor the introduction of cheetahs into the KNP in Sheopur district and other designated areas, more than 70 years after the world's fastest animal became extinct in India.
"The task force will take a call on putting the cheetahs in the soft enclosure," Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), JS Chauhan, told PTI on Saturday.
Cheetah siblings Freddy and Alton, sisters Savannah and Sasha, and Obaan, Asha, Cibili, and Saisa are fantastic, Chauhan said. "According to the Namibian cheetah expert in the KNP, the eight cheetahs—five females and three males aged between 30 and 66 months—are doing much better than the expectations of their country," he added.
KNP director Uttam Sharma said the cheetahs are fine and are fed buffalo meat under expert supervision.
According to some forest officials, Freddy and Alton, and sisters Savannah and Sasha, are seen frolicking around often in their quarantine enclosure. The two brothers and two sisters have been put in two bomas (enclosures) of around 50 x 30 metres, while the rest of the four cheetahs are quarantined separately in four bomas of around 25 x 25 metres, officials said.
When contacted, task force member Abhilash Khandekar, also a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Wildlife Board, said the cheetahs are good. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has constituted the task force with nine members on board for two years.
The veterinarians and experts from India and Namibia are keeping a close watch on the cheetahs in the quarantine enclosure, officials said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on September 17 released the cheetahs in the KNP.
In his speech, the prime minister cautioned that cheetahs need time to acclimatise to their new habitat before people can see them in the wild. "Cheetahs are our guests." We should give them a few months to make Kuno National Park their home, "he said.
The KNP opens for tourists on Sunday after remaining closed for three months during the monsoon season, but the visitors will not get access to the quarantine area where the cheetahs are kept, KNP director Uttam Sharma said.
The gate of the sanctuary leading to the quarantine area, where the eight cheetahs are currently kept, will not be thrown open to tourists. The eight cheetahs were brought to the KNP under the ambitious inter-continental translocation project.
The last cheetah in India died in 1947 in the Koriya district in present-day Chhattisgarh, which was earlier part of Madhya Pradesh, and the species was declared extinct in India in 1952.
The KNP, spread over an area of 750 sq km, is situated on the northern side of the Vindhya mountains. Besides, it has a buffer area of around 500 sq km.