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Runaway leopard in India hoodwinks drones, elephants

Official estimates suggest there are between 12,000 and 14,000 leopards in India

Kolkata (AFP)

Wildlife authorities in eastern India have deployed drones, trained elephants and set up traps with live bait to find a leopard who escaped from a safari park, officials said Friday.

The four-year-old beast nicknamed Sachin escaped on New Year's Day from its enclosure in Bengal Safari Park located near Siliguri town in West Bengal state.

"Two camera-fitted drones, four trained elephants and nearly 100 foresters have been deployed to track the leopard," Vinod Kumar Yadav from the West Bengal Zoo Authority told AFP by telephone.

"Foresters have also laid 10 traps with live bait but the leopard did not fall prey to (them)."

The leopard was briefly sighted on a tree near the rhino enclosure in the herbivore section of the park on Tuesday night before it vanished from sight.

Foresters have since found pugmarks at three places near a forest, triggering panic among villagers living nearby.

"All his life he has lived in captivity and has never preyed on any animal... he has always been fed by foresters," said Yadav.

"We hope he will come near his enclosure for a meal when he is hungry," he said.

The Bengal Safari Park is spread over 297 acres (120 hectares) at the foothills of the Himalayas near the town of Siliguri, the gateway to the hill resort of Darjeeling.

It was opened to the public only last year.

Official estimates suggest there are between 12,000 and 14,000 leopards in India.

An estimated 431 leopards were killed in 2017, according to government figures, most by poachers for their hides and body parts.

There are no figures on the number of humans killed by leopards, but experts say there are hundreds of deaths each year.

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