Within a period of three days, second major leopard scare was averted in Shimla on Saturday --- when two adult female leopards, who had escaped from their "unlocked" enclosure at the Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre for wild animals in Tuti Kandi in wee hours, were re-captured by wild life wing team.
But this could be achieved only after one and a hour long frantic struggle and direct scuffle of the team with the bigger leopard, six years, for few minutes.
The veterinary doctor, Dr Sandeep Rattan, who headed the team and tranquilized the leopard finally taking a brave step, received injuries in hands and legs.
Three other staff members were also injured. They are -veterinary pharmacist, Jagat Singh, forest guard Jiya Lal and cleaner Babu Ram. The other leopard, aged three years, is the progeny of the elder one and was born in captivity at the Rescue centre only.
She was the one to be re-captured first. Her mother, who was housed along with her in the same enclosure, was captured in 2003 from Danoghat near Shimla at the age of two months.
Both the leopards were moving around in the vicinity of the rescue centre in Tutikandi only, when the wild life team got an alarm about their escape in the morning.
The wild life authorities has lodged a complaint with the Police suspecting a "foul play". A departmental inquiry has also been ordered into it by Principal Chief Conservator of Forests-cum-Chief Wild Life warden, Himachal Pradesh, Vinay Tondon to look into the angle of negligence by the Rescue Centre Staff.
A release by him said strict action will be taken against the defaulters for this lapse.
"The leopards could have invited major problem, which has a orphanage and a village in the vicinity.
It was due to quick, efficient and brave action by the veterinary doctor and his staff at the rescue centre, that averted leopard scare in the area," said Sanjeeva Pandey, Chief Conservator, Forests, who is in charge for Faunal Diversity and Protected Area in the state. Veterinary doctor, Dr Sandeep Rattan( the one to capture the female leopard cub in Shimla on Thursday) was back to work in the Centre after treatment at the hospital. "I got a call from the centre at 7 AM that two animals have escaped. Within 15 minutes I reached and by that time, the staff had sighted the smaller leopard. We could capture her within 20 minutes with just one shot of tranquilizing dart. But the bigger animal was not traceable. We searched for her for half an hour and ultimately could see her hiding at a place.
When she received two darts of tranquilizer, she went aggressive and attacked on us.
Briefly stopping the operation for first aid and then re-filling the tranquilizing gun, I again shot at her and could tranquilize her fully, using four darts in all," Dr Rattan narrated to Hindustan Times. He said the fortunate part was that the leopards had a habit of living in captivity and they were let out in the morning hours only. "By morning, the animal prefers to hide itself. It avoids moving in the day light," he explained.
Dr. Rattan informed that both the leopards were fine and had come out of the sedation effect of tranquilizer.
According to sources, the Police team found the lock open without any damage to it—which could well indicate that it could be a case of negligence.
But, sources said, what gives a lead towards foul play in this episode is that the leopard enclosures had a tough sliding door, which leopards can not open themselves.
"A bear can open even the sliding door, but a leopard can not. It can only push a door with its paw to come out," said some wild life experts. The chowkidar at the rescue centre has expressed total unawareness as to how it all happened or who could have tried to let out the animals in this manner.
The Tutikandi rescue centre, located on the outskirts of the city, houses seven leopards and eleven black bears. Most leopards were captured from the forest areas in upper Shimla district. A few of them were born in the captivity at the Rescue Centre only.