For the past six months, authorities at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS), in Thane's Dahanu taluka have been dealing with an unusual problem - the presence of a leopard on their premises.
An unused portion of the village land acquired for units 3 and 4 of the power station has been home to a stray leopard for whom the forested area, abundant prey in the form of wild cattle and near-exclusive rights over the territory make it an ideal habitat.
Attempts by the forest department to catch the animal and release it in a protected forest have proved unsuccessful so far.
The full-grown leopard was first spotted in October 2012 by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel guarding the plant. Forest officials were alerted and two cages, one with a dog and the other with a goat, were placed. But the cat did not take the bait and has eluded the cages.
The leopard stays just one-and-a-half to two-km away from the plant office and reactors, but has minded its own business so far, said guards, who have regularly spotted it during their night patrols, meandering through the bushes, perched on trees, or walking just 10 feet away from their vehicle. There have been no reports of attacks either.
Officials said the leopard may have come from the forests to the east of the plant, climbed the surrounding trees and jumped into the complex, guarded with 10 to 12-foot walls with barbed wire fences, security officials said. "We have also seen its pug marks on the walls. On one occasion, the leopard was also spotted outside this enclosure," said Vivek Patil, a CISF constable.
TAPS authorities had roped in wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya to help them trap the leopard and talk to the plant management about their safety concerns. Athreya and local forest officials tried to get pug-marks of the animal by creating tracks of marshy areas around the vegetation, but failed.
TAPS authorities are now trying to reduce the leopard's prey base, to lure it to the cages. "The safety of people working around is of prime importance," said Ashok Shinde, senior manager, human resource, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which operates the plant.