BENGALURU: The leopard that was captured from a school in Bengaluru the Sunday before last escaped from the Bannerghatta rescue centre on Monday.
It's back on the loose in the wilds of Bannnerghatta. Officials have no idea where it is. Officials say search operations are on.
The official version of the escape is that it squeezed through a gap in the mesh of its cage.
But the development begs many questions. Did the predator slip away on its own or did forest officials surreptitiously release it in the wild? Did staff forget to keep an eye on it?
Only an inquiry will reveal how the leopard vanished, and the chief wildlife warden has promised one.
Usually, any big predator in captivity is aggressive, distressed and traumatised. As was the case with this lone, fully grown male eight-year-old leopard captured on February 7 at Vibgyor School in Marathahalli.
Officials had said soon after its capture that they would hold it in captivity since it was too weak to survive in the forest.
Sunil Panwar, deputy conservator of forests in charge of the Bannerghatta National Park told Express, “It is definitely inside the national park and operations are on to sight and re-capture it. There are pug marks, but whether they belong to this animal or some other is not clear as our park has a leopard population.”
Wildlife experts say it is unlikely the leopard escaped on its own. “How could an animal with partial sight and no canines break out of a cage? What kind of disease surveillance was carried out? Was a complete screening done before it was declared unfit to survive in the wild?” one conservationist asked.
The official explanations are nconsistent. One official said the leopard could have slipped out in the morning because the door of its cage was not properly shut. He went on to speculate that it squeezed out through the mesh in the door.
But the rescue centre has three barriers. Without some help, the big cat could not have crossed all of them, another official said. Some staff complained that the cages were small, old and completely worn out.
Karnataka principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Ravi Ralph told Express, “All aspects will be looked into. However, the condition of the animal was pretty good and it was eating well. Most likely it has escaped into the Bannerghatta National Park.”
Some earlier reports had suggested the leopard was distressed and was refusing food. A conservationist was worried for the animal. “This park has its own population of leopards and any carnivore re-introduction is dicey as it would result in a conflict situation. Till date, we have no knowledge from which patch of the forest this leopard initially came: Varthur, Bannerghatta or elsewhere.”
Praveen Bhargava of Wildlife First recommends keeping the animal in captivity if it is caught again.
“Its homing instincts are strong and it may try to move back to its habitat. The Forest Department should be able to recapture it,” he said.
So Where Is It?
- Lurking somewhere in the sprawling 104 sq km Bannerghatta National Park
- Prowling the streets of some village or extension of Bengaluru
- Heading back to its habitat, but where it came from nobody knows
Dr Manilal Valliyate, director of veterinary affairs of PETA India, advocates a relocation plan comprising humane tranquillising methods, followed by proper relocation in a habitat ideal for survival.
“Many animals captured in recent times have made every effort to escape, as captivity is completely traumatic for them. Further, captured animals die in captivity and adaptability for an eight-year-old leopard is very low as it is forced to lead the life of a prey,” he said.
But Ashok Hallur, a naturalist, said, “I am happy the leopard has escaped as it belongs in the wild. Just leave the big cat alone as it knows how to survive.”
For Rescued Animals
Spread over 17.5 hectares, the rescue centre at Bannerghatta houses 20 or so leopards. It is a place for rescued, orphaned and captured animals, which was established in 2000 under the Central Zoo Authority. The animals are housed in cages in different blocks, each with a kraal (enclosed) space of 1,500 sq metres. The centre has three levels of security, with a moat, a solar fence (it being elephant country) and a high wall.
Bear Lost and Found
This is not the first time a predator has escaped from the Bannerghatta park. On January 29, a Himalayan black bear crept out of the rescue centre. It was recaptured from a nearby village on the Bannerghatta-Anekal road after a 28-hour operation.
The animal had managed to escape by digging a hole, as its cage was old and had rusty nuts and bolts, a park official said.
The school cat timeline
Feb 7, 4.13 am: CCTV footage shows leopard inside Vibgyor High school, Kundalahalli, near Whitefield
8.15pm: Wildlife authorities capture the cat after 10-hour effort, rescuers move it to Bannerghatta National Park
Feb. 16: Leopard sneaks out of rescue centre, operation on to recapture it