(CNN) — The northern Indian city of Meerut was both panicked and intrigued by a leopard on the loose on Sunday, which has eluded captors since.
The big cat was found in a local timber shop before being cornered in a nearby hospital, local forest official Sushant Sharma told CNN on Tuesday.
Animal control experts were called to tranquilize the animal, which made a daring escape, breaking a window in the room to make its getaway. After breaking out of the hospital it “snuck” into a cinema and later also entered an apartment block.
Stunning photographs purport to show the leopard leaping across rooftops, squeezing through a hole in the wall of the Meerut Cantonment Hospital, and snarling at a baton-wielding official through a window.
Crowds complicate capture efforts
The cat sparked more inquisitiveness than trepidation as onlookers crowded around the site of the cat’s incarceration, hampering efforts by the authorities to capture and release the leopard. “It got agitated and escaped,” Sharma said.
But curiosity got the better of some in the crowd. Seven, including a policeman who needed treatment for a gash on the shoulder, were injured by the leopard.
No sightings were confirmed on Monday and Sushant did not rule out the possibility of the leopard having retreated into the forests.
“Nothing happened (Monday). So, there are chances it could have gone back to the forests. But we are still trying to track it,” Sharma said.
The incident is only the latest in a series of big cat attacks in India, including at least one alleged man-eater also in Uttar Pradesh, home to one of the world’s last remaining tiger habitats. A leopard also mauled a five-year-old boy to death in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh last week.
The increasing number of sightings — and attacks — by big cats in India is raising the issue of human encroachment on wild animal habitats.
“There are many cases where human habitats are encroaching on those of big cats, which are getting lesser and lesser over the years,” said Jimmy Borah, Tiger Coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India.
“The cats are forced to come out of their habitats to look for food. There is lots of habitat loss and with that food source loss — it’s one of the main problems, which is why they are coming out.”
Officials say at least nine people have died since December end from tiger attacks. Eight of those deaths have been blamed on a single man-eating female tiger.
“It is possible that the tiger came out (of her habitat) looking for food and the humans accidentally came out in front of the tigers, which would mean she would be bound to kill them. Maybe she was with cubs, and as tigers are very protective they will actively attack threats.”
Borah said that in areas where there is no human encroachment, populations numbers are stable. However, he agreed that if a particular animal was positively identified as one responsible for human deaths, “then one option is taking her out.”