Before there could be any animal terror, a 28-hour search operation in thick forest settled it quietly on Friday.
With patience, teamwork and courage, wildlife officials and army personnel helped rescue a four-year-old leopard from a cable mesh in which it was tangled at Pathankot cantonment. Calmed with four tranquiliser shots, the animal was bundled off to the Chhatbir zoo, where it is reported to safe and unhurt.
The operation was kept secret from the media and locals to avoid injuries to both people and the animal. Capturing a leopard is fraught with risk, especially when the big cat is agitated and the hunt is in the dark.
District forest officer (wildlife) Rajesh Kumar led the operation. On Thursday evening, locals had tipped him about animal roars they had heard in the army forest. He got the army to cordon the area.
“When I got there, Major Vishal of Assam Rifles, who had deployed his jawans to guard the place, confirmed that it was a leopard,” said DFO Kumar. “We spotted its tail first in the bushes and then we saw it stuck in some wires. We arranged for a tranquiliser-dart kit and called three veterinary officers to handle the animal.”
Since the team had a long-range gun, it was unsafe to shoot, so it waited for a special team from Chandigarh, which reached here on Thursday night. Thrice at specific intervals, the sharpshooters fired a sedative shot into the animal but failed to pacify it. The final shot in the wee hours of Friday worked and the animal could be freed of the wire wrapped around its left leg. “The leopard was unhurt,” said the DFO. “We saw after it was sedated.”
The rescued leopard is around 50kg. It’s a frequent visitor to the spot where a wire caught its leg on Thursday. The army’s flashlight and JCB-machine support proved crucial to the rescue. “Many a time, death was a few inches away,” said the DFO.
Sharpshooter Johan Daniel, chief warden Dhirendar Singh, and chief conservator RK Misra had vital role in the rescue. The animal is protected under Schedule 1. The town remained unaware of the operation and slept in peace.