Wearing a pair of sunglasses, a safari hat and vest, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen cranking a lever to release a pack of cheetahs from Namibia into a special enclosure in Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park on Saturday as part of a government's project to reintroduce the feline in India.
The Prime Minister, who is also celebrating his birthday today, was seen clicking photographs of the big cats after releasing them.
The eight cheetahs - five females and three males - will be kept in the quarantine enclosures for about a month before being released in the open forest areas of the park. The creatures had gone extinct here seven decades ago.
The Prime Minister termed the "Project Cheetah", the world's first inter-continental translocation project for cheetahs, as his government's endeavour towards environment and wildlife conservation.
He was accompanied by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union Minister for Environment and Forest Bhupendra Yadav.
PM Modi said that the cheetahs, aged between two and five and a half, may take a few months to adapt to the new habitat. "The citizens will have to show patience, wait for a few months to see the cheetahs released in the Kuno National Park. Today, these cheetahs have come as our guests, unaware of this area. We have to give a few months to these cheetahs too to make Kuno National Park their home," he said.
"India is giving a message to the whole world that economy and ecology are not conflicting fields," he added.
The big cats were brought to Gwalior from Namibia in a special cargo flight this morning and later flown to the Kuno National Park in two Indian Air Force helicopters.
India in the past was home to Asiatic cheetahs, but the species was declared extinct domestically by 1952. Cheetahs became extinct in India primarily because of habitat loss and hunting for their distinctive spotted skin.
Efforts to reintroduce the cheetahs to India gathered pace in 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled that African cheetahs, a different subspecies, could be settled in India at a "carefully chosen location" on an experimental basis.