CHENNAI: There have been occasions where thousands have flocked to Vandalur to get a glimpse of the magnificent ‘big cats’. However, Saturday witnessed the opposite where few dared to venture anywhere near the reserve forest adjoining the Vandalur Zoo as a reported leopard sighting by a night watchman of the Forest Department on late Friday night sent shudders across the neighbourhood and even beyond.
Forest Department officials sprung into action on Saturday as the scare intensified after local residents reported sighting pug marks near a watering hole behind the Reserve Nursery, where the leopard was reportedly sighted by watchman, K Ramesh.
Even as the pug marks were compared to those of panthers and leopards in the Zoo, the District Forest Officer, K Soundarapandian, who later inspected the site, denied that they belong to a leopard as they were too small although he did not rule out that a leopard may be prowling the area.
However, it was a day of half measures by the forest officials, who remained skeptical of any chance at catching the big cat with impeding legal constraints and pressure from NGOs, even as a cage and cameras were being set up at the watering hole.
More than the leopard, the Forest officials seemed scared of NGOs as the DFO Soundarapandian said without using live bait, catching a leopard would be very tough and using one would mean legal hassles.
Speaking to Express, he said “there is a legal provision which does not allow us to use live bait such as goats and NGOs are at our neck with regard to the issue. However, the problem with keeping raw meat as bait is that the scent alone is not enough to lure predators who usually hunt live game rather than resort to scavenging.”
Soundarapandian further added that with the strong spotted deer population in the Sandanandapuram range, it was probable that a leopard may be lurking around, but dismissed that it was the same leopard that was reportedly spotted in Chengalpet Forest Range a few weeks ago.
Ramesh reportedly spotted the cat at 8.30 pm when he woke up after a group of agitated deer were seen running out of the tree cover.