Residents of Sikrod village and adjoining areas of Raj Nagar Extension claim to have spotted a leopard in the area twice since Friday. Teams from the district administration and forest department rushed to the area near national highway (NH) 58 on Saturday night as villagers reported sighting it near the premises of a prominent school too.
The area where it was said to have been spotted is barely 500 metres from the highway and comprises of dense vegetation and villagers’ fields. Teams of district and forest officials conducted an extensive search till Sunday morning and found dozens of pug marks of an animal, but no leopard. Residents and officials remained cautious as the area also houses several renowned schools, a management college and a hospital.
“The animal, which seemed to be a leopard, was spotted on Friday by a farmer who was cultivating his fields on a tractor near the school. When he saw the animal, he drove his tractor back home quickly. However, villagers did not take him seriously then,” said Sanjay Kaushik of Sikrod.
“Lots of pug marks are visible in the fields and adjoining areas. We have also noticed that the number of stray dogs in our area has decreased suddenly. The animal may have hunted them down. Residents are afraid as the area is next to the road that leads to our village from the highway. Villagers have not been going to the fields due to fear of the animal,” said Gulab Singh, another villager.
On Sunday morning, the forest department took an iron cage there to try to trap the animal.
“We will put a goat as bait in the evening, which will remain secured behind an iron shield. If the animal enters the cage, the shutter will go down and it will be trapped inside,” said Asif Shehzad, range forest officer, Ghaziabad.
“Pug marks found in the area were lifted and samples sent to determine the species of animal. The animal could be from the cat family like a leopard or a fishing cat, or from a dog family, like a hyena, wolf or some similar animal. The iron cage was put in the area where pug marks were prominently found,” he added.
On the other hand, officials from Presidium School, Raj Nagar (Meerut Road), said the incident could be a rumour and they had scanned the entire school premises on Sunday.
“Nothing was found. Even senior forest department officials checked footage from our 28 CCTV cameras and could not find any animal except a small stray dog. The school has nearly eight-feet-high boundary wall for safety. We did not make any calls to officials about any wild animal,” said Munish Bagga, senior administrator of the school.
Shehzad confirmed that he had checked the school’s CCTV footage. “As per the villagers’ complaint, we have installed a cage with a goat inside to trap the animal and are waiting for something to happen. It could be any animal. We are not taking any chances,” he said.