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Czechmate, Celsius!

- Snow leopard gets special clearance at airport

A three-year-old visitor from the Czech Republic was accorded one of the fastest transit clearances at Calcutta airport on Friday, a privilege reserved for a handful of VVIPs.

Half an hour was all it took for cuddly-looking Sici to go from the aircraft to an air-conditioned van waiting for him at the airport to take him to Darjeeling. He needed the special treatment for his survival, if not for the VVIP status thrust on him.

Sici is a snow leopard for whom any exposure to Calcutta’s summer is fraught with the risk of a fatal heat stroke. Friday morning’s temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius may have been mild compared to the day’s high of 37.5 degrees, but those responsible for Sici’s long journey from Prague to Darjeeling wouldn’t take chances.

By the time the Emirates aircraft carrying Sici landed at the airport around 8.15am, all the documents required for the three-stage transit process for animals brought from abroad were ready. The advance arrangements ensured that Sici didn’t need to spend much time at the cargo terminal, to which he was taken in his cage atop a non-AC van.

The cage — 127cm long, 59cm wide and 110cm tall — had been brought down from the aircraft with elevator-like equipment. Airport officials said Sici stood up while the cage was being lowered but became relaxed and was down on his haunches after it was placed on the ground.

“Darjeeling zoo had applied for pre-clearance so that the snow leopard could be taken to the air-conditioned van from the aircraft (via the cargo terminal) in the minimum possible time. We got the documents pertaining to vaccination, general health condition and all other information a day before and all the necessary clearances were obtained,” Amin Khan, cargo manager (east India) of Emirates, said.

Vehicles carrying cargo to the terminal buildings often have to stop because of traffic in the apron area. But vehicle movement was stopped on Friday morning for the van carrying the snow leopard, an airport official said.

Sici had flown around 7,000km from Prague to reach Calcutta, a distance covered in 10 hours and 45 minutes with a two-and-a-half-hour stopover at Dubai airport.

The snow leopard is from Zoo Jihlava, which has sent him to Darjeeling zoo to be part of a breeding programme. “We need the snow leopard to create a new bloodline for breeding in captivity,” said A.K. Jha, director of the Padmaja Naidu National Himalayan Zoological Park.

The zoo has nine snow leopards, four of them female.

Sici, born in Zoo Jihlava in 2011, gets meals six days a week. On Sundays, he goes without food. “He either eats one rabbit or half portion of a small goat or chicken. Sici consumes two-and-a-half kg of meat a day,” Michaela Eliasova, the annual record keeper of Zoo Jihlava, told Metro.

Michaela said the weather in Calcutta had everyone at the zoo worried when they bade goodbye to Sici. “We put him on a van to Prague on Thursday morning. We were worried because we had heard that it is very hot in Calcutta. We have since received pictures of him and are relieved to know he is doing fine.”

The average summer temperature in most of the Czech Republic is between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius.