The Atlantic

When One Big Cat Is Almost Like the Other

India’s Supreme Court has to decide if African cheetahs could sub in for the country’s long-lost population of Asiatic cheetahs.
Source: Caren Firouz / Reuters

In 1947, as India was gaining independence from Britain, a maharaja in the mountainous state of present-day Chhattisgarh is said to have hunted down the last three Indian cheetahs. These cats have cultural links to the region dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years: The word cheetah derives from the Sanskrit word citraka—“spotted one”—and in the 16th and early 17th centuries, the revered Mughal emperor Akbar kept more than 1,000 as his hunting companions. By the early 20th century, though, their numbers had shrunk, and in 1952 they were officially declared extinct on the subcontinent.

The Indian government has spent decades trying to bring cheetahs back. At first, conservationists imagined either importing or cloning Asiatic cheetahs, the subspecies that once thrived in India. When that strategy failed, they turned their attention to a closely related subspecies, found across Africa in pockets of the south, west, and east.

Both Asiatic

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