The fastest animal on earth, the cheetah, is all set to make a comeback to India, seven decades after it was declared extinct in 1952 owing to hunting and loss of habitat. Eight radio-collared cheetahs — five males and three females — will be brought in a special cargo Boeing flight from Namibia and is expected to land in Gwalior on September 17, from where they will be brought to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park in a helicopter. The introduction of cheetahs in India is reportedly being done under Project Cheetah, which is the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.
Several social media users lauded the achievement, especially the manner in which the relocation is being done. According to several users, including news agencies like ANI and publications like HT, a specially painted Indian aircraft was pressed into service for this task.
Newschecker noticed that the painting on the aircraft’s nose was of a tiger and not a cheetah, considering the snout, which threw doubts on whether this plane was specially painted for the translocation project. We ran a reverse image search of the tiger-faced plane, along with keyword searches for “tiger-faced plane”, which led us to multiple news reports, dating to 2015, by The Siberian Times, The Daily Mail, featuring photos of the plane that are similar to one in the viral photos.
We learnt that Russian carrier Transaero had, in June 2015, unveiled a special new livery featuring the face of the big cat on one of its long-haul Boeing 747-400 planes. It was designed to promote the conservation work of the Amur Tiger Centre, which has branches in Moscow and Vladivostok and helps to protect the endangered species.
Taking a cue from this, we searched for “Transaero tiger flight”, which led us to this news report. According to the report, dated May 28, 2022, the former Transaero Boeing 747-400, known for its “Caring for Tigers together” livery, has left its home at Teruel Airport to start a new life with Moldova’s Terra Avia. The jet, formerly EI-XLN, was acquired by Sharjah-based Aquiline International last year, though it has remained in storage at Teruel since the collapse of Transaero in 2015.”
We then looked up the Terra Avia website, where it has detailed, “TERRA AVIA is pleased to offer the BOEING 747-400 and BOEING 737-300 aircrafts rental service. First quarter of 2020 the AC “Terra Avia” has expanded its area of activity by also offering CARGO transport services.” Furthermore, we found this website that tracks the aircraft’s change of hands from Transaero to Aquiline to Terra Avia. The website clearly mentions that the aircraft was painted with special colours in June 2015 for Caring The Tigers Together, proving that the painting on the nose of the aircraft was a tiger, not a cheetah and that it was not painted for the occasion by the Indian government.
We later found this tweet by DD India, which stated tests were being run on the special Boeing plane to avoid any last-minute glitch during the translocation. In the second photo, you can clearly see Terra Avia written on it.
We also found this DD India Exclusive interview with Roman Trandafiloff, CEO, Aquiline International, ahead of the translocation. He states that the aircraft belongs to his company and was acquired a year ago.
We reached out to Terra Avia to confirm if the specific tiger livery aircraft, a former Transaero Boeing 747-400, has been leased for India’s Project Cheetah. We will update this article once we receive a response. We have also contacted Action Aviation, who has reportedly organised the transport of the cheetahs, with the same enquiry. We will update once a response is received.
The painting on the nose of the aircraft being used to translocate the cheetahs to India is a tiger and not a cheetah. The aircraft is not owned by an Indian carrier and was not specially painted for the occasion.
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