Mob delays capture of leopard in Srinagar’s Bagh-e-Mehtab, say wildlife officials

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Srinagar: The presence of large crowd armed with stones and sticks have thrown a spanner in the rescue operations of Jammu and Kashmir wildlife department which has deployed three teams to recover a Himalayan leopard safely from suburban Bagh-i-mehtab area of Srinagar where the feline was first sighted yesterday slinking through one house after another.

Various amateur footages and CCTV clips circulating on social media show the animal silently plodding on the snow-covered surfaces leaving prominent pugmarks. Other videos show a crowd of people chasing the animal into marsh lands while hurling stones at it. These videos also drew furore on the social media with netizens denouncing the “irresponsible” behaviour of the mob.

Officials from rescue teams said they had two professional shooters with them who also successfully fired multiple tranquilising darts but they did not sedate the animal due to aggression into which the crown drove it.

“This operation began yesterday. Wildlife protection teams from Wetland division, Central division and Wildlife SOS were working together in the rescue operations but local mob hampered our work very much because they were routinely chasing the animal and due to this the darts failed to sedate it,” said Aaliya Mir, who heads Wildlife SOS in Kashmir. “We had two shooters with us. For the full day, we had chased the animal from one house to another.”

Mir said they had to suspend operations by the night. “Early morning, we have started operation again. All three teams are working hand in hand,” she said. “But we are clueless because there’s no trace of the animal around. It has not been sighted even though our teams are patrolling the area actively. We are trying to get any clue so that we can start again.”

Wildlife officials said that two professional shooters, part of the rescue teams, had successfully fired multiple tranquilizing darts at the leopard. However, the officials said, the animal was driven to aggression by the crowd owing to which the tranquillizer failed to sedate the animal.

Adding that animal could possibly have retraced its steps into the natural habitat. “Yesterday evening, the leopard was almost in our eyesight. Some tranquilizing darts also hit it,” said Altaf Hussain, Wildlife warden, Central division. “Due to presence of large crowd, it turned aggressive. In such situation, tranquilisers fail to sedate the animal. Today we are trying to find its whereabouts but the leopard is nowhere to be seen. It is also possible that the animal went back into its natural habitat.”

As per experts, the animal must have come from the Karewas surrounding the defence airport straddling Budgam-Srinagar division. Karewas are elevated tablelands formed from the lacustrine deposits found in abundance across Kashmir valley. “It must have come in search of food and shelter,” Mir said. “They come from the Pir Panchal range. Unfortunately, had there been no mob, we would have succeeded yesterday only.”

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