Leopard Terrorizes Northern India City of Meerut, 6 People Attacked

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

A massive hunt has been launched for the leopard seen prowling the streets of the densely populated city of Meerut, about 45 miles northeast of New Delhi, the capital of India.

The big cat sparked panic among city dwellers when it strayed inside a hospital, invaded a movie theatre and then wandered through an apartment complex to avoid capture, reports ABC News.

Since Sunday, the NY Times India blog reports, the leopard has attacked a police officer, a television news cameraman and four residents. Although all have survived, the police officer and cameramen have remained hospitalized., Pankaj Yadav, the chief official of Meerut district, announced on Monday.

Several others were hurt when a crowd of people watching the leopard ran in panic after the animal started jumping at onlookers.

The leopard was first seen midday Sunday in a warehouse in central Meerut, a city with an estimated population of 3.5 million. As the word spread, thousands of people gathered.

“A man tried to show a bit of bravado and went close to the leopard,” said Abdur Rahman, the owner of cloth shop. “The leopard injured him on his hand, and that created panic among onlookers.”

The leopard, disturbed by people and camera flashes, leaped onto the wall of a nearby hospital and entered the building, where he remained for several hours, according to reports.

The alarm for the safety of residents was so great that schools and colleges were closed in Meerut and "some women are not allowing their husbands and children outside the home," according to the India blog.

The leopard was last seen entering and exiting Vidya Laxmi Complex, a commercial center, said Sushant Sharma, the forest chief of Meerut district.

Mr. Rahman, a cloth shop owner, who also lives near the complex, said the leopard sightings have been reported all over the city. “We are hearing all kinds of rumors like, the leopard is in the complex or at the hospital or at the mall,” he said.

“My daughters wanted to come out and to see the whole drama, but my wife told them not to go out. She even wanted me also to remain at home today,” he said.

The tension in the area is compounded with the fact that a man-eating tigress has killed at least 10 people in the neighboring districts in the last two months.

Police officials, wildlife experts and forest officials are working cooperatively to catch the leopard. The Indian Army has also offered assistance.

"Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to track the leopard down," said additional district magistrate SK Dubey. "We have launched a massive hunt for the beast."

Mr Dubey says the cat was found inside an empty ward of an army hospital on Sunday. Wildlife officers were called and managed to fire a tranquilizer dart into it.

"But despite that he managed to break (out through) the iron grilles and escaped," he said.

"He then sneaked into the premises of a cinema hall before entering an apartment block. After that we lost track of the cat."

Photos showed the beast pushing its way through a lattice wall at the hospital as a policeman in riot helmet stood ready to hit it with a baton, reports say.

The leopard was also pictured leaping off a building site as people scrambled out of the way.

Fears are heightened by the fact that last week another leopard killed a five-year-old boy in the central state of Chhattisgarh--the latest in a string of incidents raising concerns about depleting habitats for big cats which is forcing them into populated areas.

Video footage from Mumbai last year showed a leopard creeping into an apartment block foyer and snatching a small dog, according to ABC News.

Conservation group WWF called for better management of forests and other habitats for India's leopard population, which numbered 1,150 at a 2011 census.

"Leopards are large territorial mammals, they need space to move around. Some of their corridors are getting blocked so there is bound to be an interface," said Deepankar Ghosh of WWF-India.

"We can't put all the leopards into cages. We can't remove all the people living near forested areas. We have to manage the situation the best way we can."

Source: ABC, NY Times