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What connects Namibia, India, the Cheetah and the Emperor Akbar?

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

As Namibia helps India reintroduce the cheetah in the country after it went extinct around seven decades ago, the animal vibrant history in India must be remembered - including with Mughal emperors.

The plane from Namibia which is bringing eight cheetahs to India to re-introduce the animal to India after it became extinct in the country in 1952.

This image has a wonderful back story.

This plane is bringing 8 cheetahs from Namibia to India. Namibia is the 'cheetah capital of the world'. It has around 3,000 cheetahs. It is sending cheetahs to India because the animal has been wiped out from over hunting and uneven development encroaching on jungle lands in India.

India and Namibia had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) July 20, 2022, to reintroduce the African cheetah to India. The MoU was signed in New Delhi by Minister for Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, and Namibia's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah. Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is set to release the animals into the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh on his birthday on September 17.

The cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952. But the cheetah was always a natural in the Indian landscape. Even its name comes from the Sanskrit Chitraka. The Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) is said to have had 1,000 pet cheetahs who were trained, a bit like hunting dogs, to assist in the emperor's hunting expeditions.

This painting below from the history of the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (the Akbarnama) depicts the first time the emperor watched the capture of cheetahs, to be tamed and thereafter used in hunting. Abu'l Fazl, the author of the history, notes that the capture of cheetahs was the most remarkable of all the arts of the hunt in India: the animals had to be lured into specially dug pits in such a way that they were not injured.

Akbar assists in capturing a cheetah, 1590-95, V&A.

This other illustration below depicts Akbar hunting with cheetahs in the neighbourhood of Agra. The emperor was particularly fond of hunting and frequently participated in this exciting sport. Here, Akbar is the central figure on horseback chasing a cheetah. Other members of the hunting party are shown also participating in the capture of animals on foot, horseback and riding on elephants. Several cages are hown, which were used both to entrap animals (goats were placed in the cage to attract tigers) and to transport them.

Akbar on a hunt with one of his 'hunting dogs', a cheetah! 1590-95, V&A.

This trend clearly continued as seen in this image, below, of Akbar's grandson Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) hunting blackbucks with his trained cheetahs.

Shah Jahan Hunting Blackbuck with Trained Cheetahs, 1710–15, The Met.

Now the cheetah is about to return to the Indian wilderness - but this time, stringent environment laws will prevent its capture or hunt.


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