Bengaluru leopard scare: Hunger led to Houdini act?

Veterinarians had scheduled sedation, thorough health check-up for the big cat on Monday.

Bengaluru: The leopard that was captured at Vibgyor School in Whitefield last week was not fed on Sunday evening as it was supposed to be treated with sedatives on Monday morning. “Usually when an animal is to be sedated, and treated the next day, we don’t feed it the previous day,” Dr Nirupama Jaisingh, Veterinary Officer, Bannerghatta Biological Park, told Deccan Chronicle.

“After the sedation, the animal was supposed to be subjected to physical examination. The final report on the health of the big cat was scheduled to be sent to the Forest Department,” she said.

“We are wondering as what made the big cat escape from here as it was regularly fed with 4-5 kg of chicken every day. Usually we understand the psychology of the wild animal that has been captured and put inside a cage. For the first two days, the leopard ate only 100-150 gm of chicken. That is because the animal is frustrated as it is not used to the new environment where it is surrounded by iron rods, concrete structures and humans making visits. I’d restricted people from visiting the leopard as it was aggressive in the cage. But after a couple of days, it mellowed down and started eating around 4-5 kg of chicken every day,” she said.

Forest officials search the area where a leopard, which was caught at Vibgyor School, escaped from Bannerghatta National Park on Monday (Photo: SATISH B.)Forest officials search the area where a leopard, which was caught at Vibgyor School, escaped from Bannerghatta National Park on Monday (Photo: SATISH B.)

Veterinarians are wondering why only this leopard escaped and not the 20 other big cats that have been caged at the zoo. Wildlife experts said that it was probably because the leopard had not adapted itself to the new environment. Also, as it was made to stay hungry on Sunday night, it made desperate, random attempts and succeeded in getting out.

May stray into human habitats again!
"It is difficult to say whether the leopard will go back to the human habitat as it is handicapped (it has a broken canine tooth and a glaucoma-like ailment in its left eye). Hence we are advising the people in the neighbouring villages to be careful and stay alert. We will have our patrolling teams do their rounds as well to trace the animal," says Dr. Ravi Ralph, PCCF adding that "As it was blind in the left eye, and did not have a canine tooth, we decided to keep him at the rescue centre and treat him. If it has escaped and is there in the forest, it can take good care of itself, but then we wanted to be on the safer side for the sake of the animal."

‘May have escaped into the forest’
"Only the inquiry committee's report will confirm that the animal has escaped and gone out. Most likely if it has escaped it could have escaped into the forest because the natural hiding place for an animal is the forest. We believe, it will not go towards human habitation, but in any case, we are taking precautionary steps having increased patrolling and vigil. This will be done by the forest department officials, and we will also advise surrounding villagers to stay alert," Mahendra Jain, Additional Chief Secretary.

Likely hideouts searched
The forest department officials formed teams and patrolled the nearby areas in the forest to trace the leopard as soon as the news of the leopard escape broke out on Monday morning. The six-member team constituting a veterinary doctor (armed with tranquilizer gun) in each team, along with range forest officer and others patrolled in a jeep from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the National Park forest area to trace the animal. They had gone to a spot in the forest where water was there, where the animal could have probably visited for quenching its thirst after its escape, said a forest official.

Last checked at 4 am
The last time, the leopard was checked on by the forest watchers was at 4:00 a.m. on Monday, after it was checked for routinely at around 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evening. There are 20 other leopards, three tigers and 18 lions housed in the BBP Rescue Centre in total.

Only 3 watchers

The 10-acre BBP Rescue Centre has only three forest watchers. “Usually, all the 17 animal holdings are kept locked at night. Our watchers have to only monitor the animals that come near the rescue centre and chase them away,” a senior official said.

Bear escaped too

A Himalayan bear, which the watchers have named ‘Begalamma’, escaped from its cage and enclosure 10-15 days ago. It was traced two days later.

Additional Chief Secretary Mahendra Jain and PCCF  Ravi Ralph inspecting the spot at the rescue centre, from where the leopard that was caught at Vibgyor School escaped from the Bannergatta National Park on Monday morning Additional Chief Secretary Mahendra Jain and PCCF Ravi Ralph inspecting the spot at the rescue centre, from where the leopard that was caught at Vibgyor School escaped from the Bannergatta National Park on Monday morning

A leopard with friends in high places?

The leopard that was captured at the Vibgyor School in Varthur last Sunday and led to an unprecedented shutdown of schools in the area, escaped from its cage and enclosure from the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) Rescue Center right under the nose of forest watchers, disappearing into the wild on Monday early morning.

The leopard was spotted scaling a 25-feet enclosure fence by a forest watcher named Girish at around 6:45 a.m., who started shouting and raising an alarm to alert the other two forest watchers, Nagaraj Shastri and Krishnappa, who were on duty on Sunday night.

“The leopard had managed to manipulate an iron rope that went through the roof and inside the cage, which had a trap door on one end of it. When the iron pulley is pulled, it lifts and opens the door, and when it is dropped, a weight suspended on the other end which is kept on a parapet wall outside the cage falls, so that the door falls and shuts," said a forest officer.

The amazing thing is that the leopard had either figured it all out, or was just plain lucky that the complicated pulley and weight system worked when he played around with it! Or did one of the guards take pity on the animal from the wild and let him go back to his own?

Clearly, after the door was lifted and he was able to get out of the cage through the open door, the leopard came into what is called a squeeze cage (where the animal is squeezed into the cage so it remains unable to move while being given treatment) which does not have a roof through which it would have jumped into the enclosure area.

The big cat then scaled the 25-feet high diamond-netted fence and disappeared into the wild even as it dawned on the forest watcher what was happening, added the forest officer. "We have seen other leopards playing with those iron threads that run through the roof inside their cages, but usually the door never opens," Bhagyalakshmi, Range Forest Officer told Deccan Chronicle.

Mahendra Jain, Additional Chief Secretary to Government Forest, Ecology & Environment Department along with Dr. Ravi Ralph, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) (PCCF) inspected the cage and the enclosure in the rescue center where the leopard escaped from the Bannerghata Biological Park on Monday morning.

"We came and inspected the cage and the enclosure. Prima facie, it looks like it's not that easy for the leopard to escape out of the cage as the forest watchers say," said Mr. Mahendra Jain. "According to them, as what they have told me, the leopard was trying to play with the iron rope which could have opened the door slightly through which it managed to sneak out into the squeeze cage which had a slide door and jump out through its roof into the enclosure after which it scaled the high fence and escaped into the forest," added Mr. Jain.

"It is rather impossible for the leopard itself to cross these three barriers alone and escape and we do not know if someone has let it go out of the cage into the enclosure to play for a while, and we will have to check on that. It's understandable that the leopard can climb the tree and then cross over the high enclosure fence, but how did it come out of the cage is yet to be examined technically," said the additional chief secretary. "We have got some footprints and pug marks outside the enclosure and also some leopard fur that the experts collected from the fence that it scaled. We will conduct an investigation and confirm whether it's the same animal that escaped to file a report on the incident," Mr. Jain added.

"We have constituted an inquiry committee to investigate into the matter
and the responsibility will be fixed action will be taken," Dr. Ravi Ralph said.
The 4 to 6-year-old male leopard was shifted to the rescue center on February 7, Sunday for medical treatment as it was handicapped with a broken canine tooth in its left upper jaw, and a glaucoma-like ailment in its left eye. The leopard was rescued from Vibgyor school premises in South East Bengaluru after a 5-hour long operation where three people were injured including Sanjay Gubbi, scientist and tiger conservationist.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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