THABAZIMBI - Twelve South African cheetahs began a voyage to India on Friday as part of an intergovernmental agreement to reintroduce the big cats to India.

They will join eight cheetahs from neighbouring Namibia that were released into the Kuno National Park in central India last year.

"The 12 cheetahs... have begun their journey to India," India's environment minister wrote on Twitter on Friday, adding they were expected to arrive on Saturday.

They were sedated and loaded into crates, and on their way to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport, where they will be picked up by an Indian military aircraft.

The cheetahs, 7 males and 5 females, are the first of dozens that South Africa has promised India over the next decade.

A subspecies similar but separate to the African cheetah - the fastest land animal on Earth - became extinct on the Indian subcontinent in 1952.

(Reporting by Siphiwe Sibeko and Catherine Schenck; Writing by Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Alexander Winning and Christina Fincher)