A day after seven people were injured by a leopard at the Cantonment Hospital here, a curfew-like situation prevailed in Meerut on Monday. All schools and colleges were closed, while shops remained shut.
The police warned people to remain indoors. “Cover the windows and do not peep out from your balconies,” they announced on loudspeakers. The town has been divided into nine sectors, each under the charge of a magistrate. Joint teams of the Army, forest department and local administration have been formed to trace the animal.
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“We have formed over six special teams but have not been able to locate the leopard so far. It was last seen outside a building on Abu Lane in the early hours of Monday, we searched the entire building but could not find it,” said Divisional Forest Officer Sudhanshu Sharma.
Nobody knows where the leopard came from. It was first sighted at around 11 am on Sunday, in a godown near Sadar thana. The animal remained inside the godown until late afternoon, even as a crowd gathered outside. According to experts, the leopard, a male, is estimated to be about five years old.
“At around 3.30 pm, a civilian entered the godown to prove that the leopard wasn’t there. He removed a plank of wood and the leopard leapt out, took a swipe at the man and ran off,” said a senior forest department officer.
The leopard was next spotted at the Cantonment Hospital, at 5 pm. “It had somehow managed to enter one of the rooms and remained there,” said the officer. A team of experts from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) reached the area
by 8 pm.
“We sealed all the exits, and the leopard was confined to a small room. It was hiding, away from the range of our tranquilisers. We finally had to burst a firecracker in the room to get it to move,” said Mayukh Chatterjee, head of WTI’s Uttar Pradesh operations.
A big crowd, including some media photographers, had gathered by then. “The leopard was calm till then. But the photographers opened the window of the room, and made a lot of noise. The animal roared and grabbed a photographer by the neck. It went back inside when the police fired two more shots,” said Chatterjee.
The leopard then ran to another room at the end of the corridor. It slashed at the windows, ripping the wire mesh. It leapt up at the ceiling fan repeatedly, destroying it. “The sheer strength of this animal was incredible. It would appear repeatedly at the window, and our veterinarian was constantly shuffling, trying to get a shot at it with a tranquiliser gun,” said Mukherjee. Three tranquiliser darts were fired, but only two hit the mark. The full dosage could not be delivered.
A little past midnight, according to officials, the leopard again got “very agitated” as photographers gathered at the window and tried to scare it. “It leapt through a glass wall, shattering it, and landed head first on a concrete wall. The total distance of the jump was almost 15 feet, and the impact was such that it created a small hole in the wall,” said Sharma. The leopard then scaled an eight-foot boundary wall and disappeared.
It had injured seven people by then, including Sadar police station house officer Gajendra Pal, who had to get seven stitches on the shoulder.
The animal was next seen on the CCTV footage of a mall nearby. “It was looking for a place to hide and didn’t seem to be injured too badly,” said the forest department officer.
“We are attempting to figure out its possible movement. But since we don’t know where it came from, we have no idea where it could be going,” said Sharma. The forest department has marked out two possible routes that the leopard may have taken.
Meanwhile, District Magistrate Pankaj Yadav said schools and colleges would open on Tuesday. “I have asked parents to tell their wards to inform the police about any leopard movement,” said Yadav.