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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

the leopard that attended school escapes from Bannerghatta facility

Ever seen ‘Udumbu’ at arm’s length away ? Monitor lizard, touted for its unrelenting grip is the common name of several large lizard species, comprising the genus Varanus. About 30 years ago, in Triplicane, in the morning around 09.00 am, I stood close to the shop entrance, as my friend opened his Watch repair shop.  He hastily retreated from part open door, then before I could realize, a solid black 2 to 3 footer jumped and went into hiding inside the shop board.  Later it was revealed that the man had bought Udumbu [for obvious reasons !] and had tied it to the leg of a wooden stool, planning everything for the next day…. In the night, the lizard had shrunk itself with ease, loosened the grip, got freed and was perhaps was waiting for the door to open !
photo credit : dailymail.co.uk

Leopards are graceful and powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars. The leopard is so strong and comfortable in trees that it often hauls its kills into the branches. I had recently posted on the leopard visit to a school in Bengaluru prompting holidays to 100s of schools in the vicinity.  The animal entering Vibgyor School premises in Marathahalli Bangalore City created such a scare.  The animal movement was recorded in CCTV cameras; later school staff spotted the big cat  at about 4am Sunday early hours. Vibgyor school night duty staff informed to school authorities. School authorities informed to the Marathahalli Local Police Station and the Police updated the news to the Forest officials. By early morning forest department personnel landed at the spot, armed with dart guns and tranquillizers. The leopard, which played hide and seek with the forest officials team and a huge number of villagers who were camping on adjacent buildings and tree tops, cut loose during the final stages of the operation to nab it  as it attacked a wildlife expert, leaving bleeding injuries on him.

It was  caught and a week later still, the members of the BBMP Wildlife Rescue team have been struggling to tackle false alarms raised by panicked public living on the city’s outskirts calling to say they have seen leopards in their backyards.  The officials stated that panicked people were making a call for every unusual sound in the night or when big dogs were sighted.   After the 5year old male with some trouble in eyes stalked the corridors of the International school, schools remained closed. 

The captured leopard  was taken to Bannerghatta National Park for medical treatment but on Sunday broke out of its cage.  However, officials maintained that there was no cause for alarm.  One said that the cat is in its natural habitat only, but would have liked to have kept it for a few more days as the leopard was undergoing medical treatment."
Various versions were circulating on its probable escape – one said the leopard escaped when attendants opened the cage to feed it, possibly when the cage door was not properly shut; the other revealed that the  45 kilogram feline squeezed out of the narrow bars of the iron cage which was probably one meant for Tiger; BBC posted a picture that the cage had gaping hole at the bottom side.

Howsoever it was, before dawn, the five-year-old male leopard – which had been described as being agitated since its capture – did what no other feline in the 16-year-old rescue centre did — break free.  While the Forest Department is yet to ascertain how the leopard escaped, the most plausible theory – as explained to The Hindu by officials – is a testimony to the animal’s agility. In the main enclosure, the gate to a smaller treatment cage is controlled by a counter-weight. The leopard managed to reach out to the rope holding the counter-weight and pull it down. This opens the trap door, if only slightly, and it made its way to the treatment cage.  The cage is surrounded on three sides with vertical grills. The roof has a metal mesh with six-inch square openings. The feline managed to squeeze through this and then spring out into the ‘kraal enclosure’. From here, the tall trees allowed the agile animal to hop over the 20-feet barbed wire and electrified fence into the open.

While over 21 leopards are housed for treatment or observation at the Rescue Centre, officials said the captured leopard had been kept in a unit meant for tigers – where the kraal area is wooded.  The  feline which went through 3 barriers was described  as agitated and restless in the days after its capture. The leopard had lost a canine and has cloudy vision in one eye – symptomatic of cataract.

Vibgyor High in Marathahalli, where the leopard was captured, re-opened after a one-week break and naturally, the escapade of the animal became the topic of discussion again.  Although classes have resumed, many schools in and around Sarjapur, Marathahalli and Varthur have suspended outdoor activities until further notice.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

16th Feb 2016.

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