Close on the heels of a tiger that had strayed into the outskirts of Lucknow in February-March, a leopard was spotted barely 35 km from the state capital on Thursday morning.
However, unlike the tiger, which authorities took more than 45 days to trap; this one was trapped within seven hours, enabling people to heave a sigh of relief.
It was around 9 am when 35-year-old Hori Lal noticed the spotted beast perched in one corner of his mango orchard in Gehndo village in Mal area on the outskirts of the city. "For a second I did not believe my eyes, but no sooner than I raised an alarm the leopard pounced on me, but somehow chose to speed away in another direction after leaving me wounded," Hori Lal said.
Three others who ventured into the orchard to have a glimpse of the animal also had a taste of its wrath as the animal left claw marks on them. However, in the absence of any thick cover, the animal could only hide itself between the trunks and branches of mango trees, which usually do not have much undergrowth.
While thousands of people began to converge around the orchard, Uttar Pradesh's Chief Wildlife Conservator Roopak Dey rushed his recently constituted Rapid Response Team to immobilise the animal. "My boys were at the spot within three hours of the first spotting and were led by DFO Suresh Yadav and Dr Utkarsh Shukla, the Lucknow zoo veterinary surgeon. The four-member team took position in the orchard and they succeeded in immobilising the animal by 3.30 pm," said Dey.
"In fact, what had become a problem for us for sometime was the huge crowd, which could be dispersed only with the help of a PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) contingent that was rushed by the Lucknow IG Ashutosh Pandey," he added.
"Once the animal was tranquillised, we arranged for a transport to carry the caged leopard to the forests of Suhelva range in Balrampur district about 200 from here," he said, adding, "The animal would be back in its natural habitat early Friday morning." He described the leopard as a "full-grown and able-bodied adult".
He said, "It was surely a marvelous achievement for which I hail my team, otherwise we could have gone through the same ordeal as was witnessed in the past when a tiger strayed into Rehmankhera village and kept people on tenterhooks for a month and a half."