Three cheetah cubs have died in India this week, dealing yet another setback to a historic effort by the government to reintroduce the species to the country after 70 years of extinction.
The cubs were part of a litter of four born in late March to a cheetah named Siyaya, who was one of eight rehabilitated cheetahs brought from Namibia to India’s Kuno National Park, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in September last year.
The first cub died Tuesday morning, said JS Chauhan, chief conservator of the Forest Department of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in an interview with local media. Over the next two days, two other cubs succumbed to “heat, dehydration and weakness,” forest department officials said.
The fourth cub was also rescued and taken to a local hospital for monitoring, Chauhan said.
“Its condition was also not very good, but after treatment, the cub is looking much better, though the cub is underweight and a bit weak. Both the mother and her remaining cub continue to remain under observation”, he added.
The government did not give the cause of death, but the day they died was one of the hottest of the season, with temperatures hitting up to 46-47 degrees Celsius (114-116 degrees Fahrenheit).
The latest deaths bring to six the number of cheetahs that have died since being reintroduced into India.
Siyaya gave birth to the cubs more than 70 years after cheetahs were declared extinct in India. It took a multi-step journey to get her and seven other cats from Namibia, on Africa’s southwestern coast, to central India.
Another 12 cheetahs arrived from South Africa in February.
But since then, three adult cheetahs have died. One South African cheetah died during an attempt at courtship and mating, a Namibian cheetah died of kidney disease, and a South African cheetah died due to cardiac failure.
Cub mortality is high in both the wild and captivity, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. On average, 30% of all cubs born in human care die within one month of birth, and in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, about 90% die before reaching three months of age, the zoo says.
Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952 and are the only large carnivore in the country to have suffered that fate.
Today, the spotted felines are most prevalent in Kenya and Tanzania in east Africa, and Namibia and Botswana in southern Africa, according to the National Zoo. But historically, the endangered cats had a much larger range, roaming throughout the Middle East and central India as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa.
Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans have greatly reduced their populations. Cheetahs are now found in only 9% of their historic range, with fewer than 7,100 adult and adolescent cheetahs in the wild, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund.