Leopard escape: No lessons learnt

The escape of a leopard from the Rescue Centre of the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) in Bengaluru is a matter of grave concern. It lays bare the extreme negligence of the BBP staff. Only a week ago, the leopard, which was found prowling in a city school, was captured by forest officials and brought to the rescue centre. Nabbing the 5-year-old, 45-kg male leopard was not easy. It took scores of forest officials around eight hours to pin him down. Those who participated in the operation put their lives at risk. Indeed, six of them were mauled by the leopard. And now, within days of its arrival at the rescue centre, the leopard has broken free. The immediate task of the BBP authorities and forest officials is to recapture the leopard. It was unwell and was reportedly irritable over the past week. The public must be instructed to avoid unleashing violence on the big cat as that will make it only more agitated and ferocious.

Simultaneously, authorities need to establish how the leopard slipped out of an enclosure that reportedly has three levels of barriers. Some officials admit that the big cat could not have done this on its own. Did disgruntled employees at the rescue centre deliberately left gates open? Even if this was not deliberate but a result of genuine oversight, this is an unacceptable excuse as there can be no room for mistakes in dealing with wild animals. Importantly, the leopard was in a treatment area meant for tigers. A squeeze box for tigers has bars that are fairly wide apart as a tiger cannot slip through this. However, a leopard, given its highly flexible body, can squeeze through these bars.

Clearly, animal enclosures in the BBP are not secure enough. A fortnight ago, a Himalayan black bear tore through the mesh and scaled a wall to escape from the park. Safety protocols are not being followed. In March last year, two lions severely mauled a zoo employee at the Park. A newly hired contract staff had apparently opened the wrong gate. Clearly, no lessons have been learnt from these incidents. There is an urgent need to review safety protocols to ensure procedures are not being violated. Only the most responsible and experienced workers must be allowed to deal with big cats, bears and elephants as any error here puts at risk the lives of many people and other animals. The lackadaisical attitude of the authorities to safety measures at the Park is reprehensible. Public confidence in them is at an all-time low.

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