| The leopard before it was freed. (AFP)
Siliguri, June 25: Bengal Tigress and other traffic tormentors, beware. The silent sufferer of your rallies and roadblocks may have found a bristling answer.
A magnificent female leopard today upstaged a political blockade in north Bengal, drawing away the foot soldiers and drowning out the mike-wielding traffic-stoppers with a chilling growl.
Caught in a tea garden in Naxalbari, the caged leopard was being ferried to a wildlife shelter in Sukna, around 8 km from Siliguri, when the caravan ran into a blockade called by the Youth Congress and the Chhatra Parishad.
The Congress cubs were demanding delivery of marksheets of students who had passed the higher secondary exams from the National Institute of Open Schooling.
The blockade kicked in around noon at Bihar More, stalling traffic on National Highway 31 and the state highway branching off to Panitanki (on the Nepal border) and Bihar.
Microphone in hand, budding leader after leader was holding forth when a shrill cry rose from the 500-strong crowd: “Arey, bagh, bagh!”
It was not exactly a tiger, but a big cat nevertheless, big enough to take the breath — and the crowd — away.
A near-stampede broke out with the blockade brigade scurrying towards the trailer to catch a glimpse of the bewildered leopard, which appeared to be around 10 years old.
The perplexed cat – which had injury marks on its face, suffered possibly while it was trapped -- first cringed and then let out a roar. “Look how magnificent it looks,” said a member of the crowd, merrily ignoring appeals from the leaders to remember the cause and return to the blockade.
The trailer – accompanied by a forest van – then began weaving its way through the logjam of vehicles and protestors.
Awed by the beast and heeding the appeal of wildlife officials, no one stopped them. The leopard and its minders were out of the “jungle” in 10 minutes and proceeded towards Sukna. The blockade was lifted soon after.
It is not clear whether such benevolence would be shown by Mamata Banerjee and the Marxists – sworn rivals who betray little differences when it comes to disrupting traffic – if someone were to live out the ultimate blockade victim’s fantasy and set a wild cat loose among the road rogues.
But Mamata and the Marxists can breathe easy. The leopard was eventually set free in the Mahananda wildlife sanctuary.
It was rescued from Motidhar Tea Estate, about 20 km southwest of Siliguri this morning.
“The garden had informed us last week that she was prowling the area. We installed a cage at the garden with a goat inside it. The leopard entered it this morning and was rescued by our officials,” Sumita Ghatak, Darjeeling divisional forest officer (Wildlife-1), said.