The rules of the game have changed. Now the leopards will be stalked. Maharashtra’s Forest Department will insert coded, electromagnetic chips into the tails of 47 captive leopards before they are released into the wild.
The big cats have been in the state’s custody for over 19 months. They were captured in 2004 and 2005 when they strayed outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai and attacked people.
After the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests directed the department to release the animals, the department decided to introduce the chips into the felines first. The coding is part of an elaborate experiment. If a leopard — after being released in the wild — is again caught attacking people, it will be held captive permanently.
“An animal which keeps attacking humans is not fit to be left loose,” said B. Majumdar, Maharashtra's principal chief conservator of forests.
Already 10 leopards have been fitted with chips. It is inserted into the tip of the animal’s tail by a small surgical procedure.
“If the leopards have to be released, the sooner the better,” said Pramod Krishnan, joint director, Ministry of Environment and Forests. “One year is too long to keep them in captivity.”
The leopards are currently being kept in small, cramped cages. While 19 leopards are in cages at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park itself, 22 are being held at Junnar and six in Nashik.
The department intended to release the animals into the wild as soon as possible, but cannot find forests to house them. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is already overcrowded with leopards. All the captured ones will have to wait, chips firmly in their tails, until they are allotted a forest.