It was hunger that finally lured a five-year-old leopard out of the basement of NES International School, Mulund, early on Sunday morning, after a 19-hour wait.
The leopard had walked into the school on Saturday morning having strayed from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in search of food.
Forest officials tried various techniques to get the leopard out. They burst firecrackers to scare it, but it did not work. Finally, officials placed a cage, with a hen as bait, at the door of the basement, through which the leopard had entered. The hungry leopard walked into the cage at 5am.
NES International School is located between Yogi Hills and Saiprasth, about 300 mts from the national park. A 10-member rescue team from the park reached the spot within an hour of receiving a distress call from the school. The team comprised forest officials and a veterinary doctor.
"Since there was no one in the school, we decided against using a tranquilliser. The basement was dark and a dart can be fatal if it hits the leopard's head," said Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forest, SGNP. "The leopard eventually got hungry and walked into the trap to eat the hen."
The leopard was then examined and fitted with a microchip under his tail to track his movements. "Most of our leopards have microchips, but this one did not. He was a young leopard, barely weighing about 60 kgs," said Limaye.
Not wanting to release the leopard in the harsh afternoon sun, officials finally freed the wild cat at around 5.30pm in its home range of the Yeoor forest in the Thane region of the park.
"Leopards are territorial and it's best to release them in their home region. Releasing them into the forest arbitrarily displaces them, increasing their chances of straying again," said Vidya Athreya, wildlife scientist. According to wildlife experts, the heat makes it difficult for leopard to hunt down their usual prey, deer, in the forest. They stray outside the park in search of easier prey such as stray dogs and pigs.