On a night when several passersby in Ghaziabad allegedly chased and beat up a stray dog after it attacked an infant and his grandmother, barely five kilometres away in Krishna Vihar Kuti locality, Satyapal Prajapati’s family stood like a rock to save a four-year-old leopard from being the victim of a potential man-animal conflict.
After the night long rescue operation, the leopard was tranquilised and transported safely to Saharanpur forest reserve after 6am on Friday.
It was Prajapati’s 21-year-old daughter Priti who first spotted the leopard at around 8.30pm as it chased her down inside her house. Priti ran upstairs and bolted the door, locking herself out in the balcony, and thus preventing the leopard from escaping. She alerted locals and her father. It was then the turn of her brother Ankit who came to the ground floor, trying to find out the leopard’s hideout.
“Some local boys came running to inform me of the leopard. I rushed to my house with a stick and searched for the animal, and found it below the bed. It attacked me, my thumb was injured. But I still did not hit him. It ran out, injured a man named Bittu and a boy named Akash, and returned to my house. Since my sister was safe in the balcony, I bolted the main entrance of the house and dialled police,” said Ankit.
Hundreds of agitated locals then gathered outside Prajapati’s house and wanted to ‘avenge’ the injuries the animal inflicted on Bittu and Akash. However, Ankit stood firm at the gate, preventing them from barging into his house.
“It is an animal that strayed into our locality. The animal was not at fault. It was just trying to run away but could not find a spot to escape. So we did not allow anyone hit the animal as it hid silently inside our house. Locals asked me to open the gate, but I did not,” he said.
It was only at 1 am, after it was confirmed that it was indeed a leopard and not any other of the species like a fishing cat, that the police and forest officials planned a capture operation. Ankit’s father decided to help the officials and rolled out an idea.
“The officials did everything to spot the animal but it made no movement inside our house. Some locals tried to barge in from upstairs, but we strictly kept them from unleashing an attack. When all efforts failed to spot the animal’s location inside the house, I picked up a hammer and broke two bricks from the backside wall of my house. I put a stick inside the opening and the animal was just sitting below the opening spot. It made some movement,” Satyapal Prajapati said.
The officials too arrived at the opening. While Prajapati again made the animal move, the officials fired tranquiliser darts.
“The animal was still conscious after two darts hit him. Then a third one was shot and soon after, the leopard went unconscious. It was taken out safely in a net and placed in a mini truck,” Prajapati said.
In between the operation, the officials had planned putting in two hens, and later a goat, to lure the leopard into the open. However, animal activists prevented them from throwing live animals before the predator.
“The officials had put up two live hens as bait inside the room, but we saved them. We had to get those admitted to a veterinary hospital. Later, they tried to put in a goat. We stopped this and warned we will lodge an FIR if it was done. We told them to burst crackers instead so that the animal moves,” said Saurabh Gupta, activist from People for Animals.
“The locals were pacified and they supported Prajapati’s call for not hurting the animal. Our efforts paid off. The leopard was captured after it was tranquilised at around 6am. This was one of the safest rescue operations in so many years,” Gupta said.
After the leopard was captured, Bittu was all smiles even though he had to take several injections for injuries inflicted by the leopard. “My friends said the injury marks would be a memory to cherish that I had an encounter with a leopard. I was on my bike when the leopard came running to me from Prajapati’s house. I tried to turn on the ignition, but it pounced on me. I fell down and it attacked me. But after a little bout of wresting, it ran away, inflicting injuries to my arms. I don’t mind it now,” he said.
In a similar incident in Mandawar village, 26 km away from Gurgaon in November last year, a big cat was cornered by the villagers, mercilessly beaten to death in front of police and wildlife officials, and the carcass was dragged to the road.
Ghaziabad district magistrate Nidhi Kesarwani said that both Ankit and Priti will be felicitated for their act and will also be recommended for bravery award.