Cheetahs return to India after 70-year absence

STORY: This is the moment eight radio-collared African cheetahs stepped into India, after the big cats disappeared from the wild here 70 years ago.

They made a 5,000-mile journey from Namibia.

The high-profile project is the first time wild cheetahs have been moved across continents to be released.

But it has drawn criticism from some scientists and conservationists.

The arrival of the big cats - the fastest land animal on Earth - coincides with the 72nd birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He released the first cat into the Kuno National Park on Saturday (September 17).

"When cheetahs run again in Kuno National Park, the grassland ecosystem of the place will get restored. Biodiversity will increase further. In the coming days, eco-tourism will also flourish here. New possibilities of progress will bloom and employment opportunities will also increase."

If all goes well, the cats will be released to run though 2,000 square miles of forest and grassland, sharing the landscape with other animals.

Another 12 cheetahs are expected to join them next month from South Africa.

India is gathering more funding for this $11.4 million project, largely financed by the state-owned Indian Oil.

It hopes to eventually grow the population to around 40 cats.

Some conservationists have criticized that this has been a "vanity project" that ignores the fact that the African cheetahs is not native to the Indian subcontinent.

And with India's 1.4 billion human population jockeying for land, biologists worry cheetahs won't have enough space to roam without being killed by predators or people.