India leopard on loose causes panic in Meerut town

The leopard in Meerut The leopard was first spotted in Meerut town on Sunday afternoon

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Panic has gripped the northern Indian town of Meerut where a leopard is on the loose, officials said.

Schools and colleges are shut and a high alert has been sounded in the town, which is a two-hour drive from the capital, Delhi.

The animal entered a hospital on Sunday and was locked in a room for a few hours before it escaped, reports said.

Large numbers of policemen have been deployed and wildlife experts have been called in to help capture the animal.

"We have closed schools and colleges in the town because we are unable to locate the leopard and do not want to take any chances. This is only a precautionary measure," district magistrate Pankaj Yadav told BBC Hindi.

"We are yet to locate the leopard. We have got calls from some areas but are still unable to trace its exact location," district forest officer Sushant Kumar said.

Officials said they were investigating reports that it had strayed into Meerut from the nearby forests.

The animal was first spotted in the town on Sunday afternoon in a warehouse where it attacked and injured a man who entered the room.

Later, the leopard took refuge in a nearby hospital, but escaped from the window a few hours later.

Rescue teams of wildlife experts have been called in to help tranquilise and capture the animal, officials said.

Wildlife experts say there are no reliable population estimates for leopards in India, but rough estimates put their number at about 10,000.

Tigers and other big cats have been known to stray into populated areas and conservationists have warned that such confrontations may increase as humans encroach on animal habitats.

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