BHUBANESWAR: Two days after a wild leopard strayed into Guwahati and mauled four persons, a lioness escaped from its enclosure in Nandankanan Zoo in the small hours of Tuesday sending the animal park authorities into a tizzy. The only solace is it is still within the precincts of the zoo and under close watch. Officials hoped it would not make an escape attempt.
While visitors were evacuated within hours of the feline slipping away, fervent efforts to capture it were fruitless all day. The battered staff tried to corner the big cat into a southern corner after three attempts to tranquilise missed the target amidst torrential downpour and low visibility in a forested and swampy section of the zoo, which also happens to be a wildlife sanctuary.
The lioness, about 11 years, was driven to a point where it was surrounded by walls on three sides while the zoo officials had pitched meshes to prevent its escape. That the lioness was still outside was enough to keep the zoo officials on their toes who toiled all day to tranquilise the animal. ‘’It is in a position where, we expect, it can neither escape towards the jungle nor towards the public area of the zoo’’, Director Sudarshan Panda said.
Panda and his team were camping on a watchtower to monitor its movement. Spotlights were turned on while a team of 15 watch and ward staff was deployed along the walls to keep an eye. The officials were hoping that the stressed lioness was not good enough to scale the walls, about eight feet high, and secured with shredded glass on the top. ‘’We have taken the best possible measure to keep it confined overnight,’’ Deputy Director SN Mohapatra said. The efforts to capture the lioness will resume on Wednesday as soon as there is good visibility, he added. It all started at about 8 am when the animal keeper, during the regular morning check, found the lioness missing from the back-crawl. The gate had been twisted to make an opening. A male inmate, fortunately, had not made any attempt to sneak out.
What saved the day for the tourists, who thronged the zoo, was alertness of range officer (security) JK Dwivedy. He was the first to know of the escape and alerted the officials. The first thing Dwivedy did was to evacuate the tourists. ‘’That was my first reaction since their security was paramount for us,’’ he said. Soon a team of about 50 personnel was after the lioness. Trailing its pugmarks, they headed towards the southern end of the zoo called Katurighasa. It was a forested area and the heavy downpour posed serious obstacles for sighting.
A couple of hours later, when it was sighted, the zoo officials tried to dart the lioness but in vain. The first two attempts were a miss and on one occasion, the big cat charged at zoo Assistant Director KL Purohit and another staffer who positioned themselves on a wall looking for a tranquilising opportunity. The two lost balance and fell eight feet below but escaped without any injury.
The third attempt to tranquilise at around 2 pm hit the lioness, but the dart seemed to have come off soon after.
‘’We needed visibility and proximity for a clear shot at its hind thigh but that did not happen because of the inclement weather,’’ Mohapatra said.