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Leopards at safari but hardly a visitor
- Out of order car hampers tourist visit to South Khayerbari forest

Alipurduar, Dec. 26: The leopards are here but they have no human visitors at South Khayerbari Eco Park.

Three male leopards have today been put in an enclosure in the eco park where visitors come for a safari ride.

But the ride itself is missing now. The only battery-operated vehicle that takes visitors around the 3-hectare area has been lying defunct for four months. So, South Khayerbari gets no visitors now.

Three months ago, the three male leopards — Khakalu, Ganesh and Mithun — were brought to Khayerbari from Gorumara National Park.

The leopards had been rescued from different tea gardens in the Dooars and were brought to Gorumara National Park. They were later sent to South Khayerbari and kept in three cages.The South Khayerbari forest is 100km from Jalpaiguri.

However, for the past few days the leopards have not been having food and showing signs of unnatural behaviour.

Today morning, the leopards were brought in their cages and kept in the enclosure, which is a part of the forest, so that they could adjust to the new surroundings.

Tomorrow. they will be released in the enclosure.

The safari car would generally move close to the leopards — there were some female leopards in the enclosure earlier — so people would be able to see the animals from up close.

But the car has been out of order for the last four months as one of its broken parts is not available and the car had been sent to Siliguri.

The records available with the forest department show that in 2011 South Khayerbari earned Rs 38,879 through safari rides but this year it was Rs 15,307 .

Bhim Bahadur Rai, the assistant secretary of the South Khayerbari Forest Protection Committee, said: “ The entry fee now is Rs 40, which was Rs 20 earlier, car parking is Rs 30 which used to be Rs 20, heavy vehicle charge is Rs 200 which was Rs 100 earlier.”

But the collections this year are less than half of last year, when the lower prices were being charged.

Rajendra Jakhar, the divisional forest officer of wildlife III, said: “We will start a project to construct a 20-hectare enclosure where we will keep more than one car. If one car is out of order the other can be used. Hopefully within this financial year the sophisticated cars will reach the centre.”