Siliguri, Jan. 28: An adult leopard sneaked into Hakimpara here this morning and mauled two persons before it was hauled up in a house, triggering a two-hour high-voltage drama that saw the animal being darted and netted.
Police had to resort to a mild lathi-charge to keep at bay thousands of people who streamed to the locality to catch a glimpse of the male carnivore.
After the tranquillisation, the animal was taken to Sukna where it would be kept under observation before it is released in Mahananda wildlife sanctuary tomorrow.
A senior forest officer said the leopard might have strayed out of Baikunthapur forest and walked 12km to reach Hakimpara where the animal was sighted at 9.45am. The animal was first spotted by the residents of Atul Prasad Sarani of Hakimpara. As they shouted, the leopard entered the veranda of Tapan Talukdar’s house.
“Moni, my niece, opened the door and found the leopard squatting on the veranda. As she shouted, the animal mauled her right hand and leapt out of our compound,” said Talukdar.
As more and more people came out of their houses, the leopard apparently became perplexed and entered the house of Bishu Ghosh and took shelter in a bedroom. On the way, the animal mauled Sukanta Mondal on his back.
Bishu’s wife, Mina, who is a heart patient, said: “I somehow gathered courage to run out of the room, bolted it from outside and fainted.”
While the leopard was pacing in the room, Uttam Dutta, a tenant at Ghosh’s house, braved to see it closely. “I took a stick and approached an open window to see the leopard. As I went close to the window, it suddenly lunged at the windowpane and mauled me in the abdomen,” said Dutta.
Moni was administered first aid, while Sukanta and Dutta were sent to Siliguri district hospital for treatment.
The crowd grew in size with more and more people heading for Hakimpara to see the animal. Minister Gautam Deb and Siliguri MLA Rudranath Bhattacharya reached the spot with police and foresters from the wildlife squad in Sukna.
“I have never seen such a wild leopard from a close distance. It is amazing that the animal has walked for over 10km to reach here as the nearest forest is Baikunthapur,” said Moloy Sarkar, a resident of Collegepara who rode his two-wheeler to see the animal.
The foresters, led by Baikunthapur divisional forest officer Dharmadeo Rai and Kanchan Banerjee, the warden of Sukna wildlife squad, placed a net at the entrance to Ghosh’s house to prevent the animal’s escape.
Around 12.30pm, foresters fired a dart at the animal and it fell unconscious. The onlookers became restless and started advancing on the house to see the animal. The foresters dragged the leopard to the net and the police made announcements over megaphones asking the people to maintain a safe distance. The police held ropes from one end of the street to another to stop the crowd from getting closer to the carnivore.
The crowd, however, didn’t pay heed to the police and moved forward, forcing the force to resort to mild lathicharge. The 2,000-strong crowd was pushed back and the animal was taken to an enclosed van of the forest department.
When the van sped away with the darted animal at 12.30pm, the crowd shouted “Oi Dekho! Oi Dekho! Van er bhetor dekha jachche!(Watch it! It can be seen in the van).”
The police personnel also left the spot and some of them headed for Kanchenjungha Stadium, where they were on security duty for chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit in the evening.
A leopard had been spotted at Limbu Busty on the outskirts of Siliguri on July 19, 2011, when Mamata was in town. A day earlier, she had signed the Memorandum of Agreement for the creation of the GTA.
DFO Rai said the animal regained consciousness en route to Sukna, 15km from Hakimpara. “It has regained consciousness on the way to Sukna. We have kept it under observation in an enclosure at Sukna. It would be released in the Mahananda wildlife sanctuary tomorrow.”
He said the foresters were in the dark about how the leopard reached heart of Siliguri.