The team was in N. Belthur village to rescue a leopard

A mob assaulted Forest Department staff who had come to rescue a leopard that had strayed into N. Belthur village in H.D. Kote taluk on Tuesday.

The leopard strayed into the village from Antharsanthe range of the Nagarahole National Park and was first sighted in the bathroom of a house around 6.30 a.m. When there was a commotion, it attacked four persons, identified as Rama, Rani, Gundaiah and Krishna, and escaped into another house.

The department staff received information of the leopard attack around 8 a.m. and they reached the village by 10 a.m.

Though the immediate cause for the “unprovoked” attack on the staff is not clear, a section of the village residents said the local people were upset about the “delayed” response from the department team.

Disputing this, the officials said the staff and the veterinary team was mobilised from Mysore and Hunsur and they reached N. Belthur within 2 hours of receiving the complaint.

Terming the attack brazen and unprovoked, the staff suspected that anti-social elements, against whom cases had been booked by the department for violation of various provisions of the forest conservation and wildlife protection Acts, were behind it.

The department team, led by Range Forest Officer A.T. Pooviah, included a veterinarian armed with a tranquilliser gun, and forester Hemanth Kumar. On reaching the village, the officials found that a large number of people had surrounded the house in which the leopard was hiding.

The staff ran for cover when a section of the crowd turned its ire against them. However, they were chased around the village and roughed up. Blows were rained in on some of the guards who tried to escape into the adjoining sugarcane fields, according to a source.

Mr. Poovaiah, Mr. Kumar, and Raje Gowda and Chikkanna, watchers, who were injured in the attack, were taken to a local hospital.

When additional police force and forest staff reached the village, the mob melted away, following which the officials launched the operation to rescue the leopard. The leopard was tranquillised and released at Kaimara in the D.B. Kuppe range.

The Beechanhalli police have registered a case in connection with the attack.

The incident has been condemned by Wildlife First, an NGO, which called for a strong and deterrent action against the “emboldened criminal elements”.

Their modus operandi is to form mobs and attack Forest Department staff on duty when they enter villages either to rescue wild animals or to apprehend wildlife offenders, according to Praveen Bhargav and K.M. Chinnappa of the NGO.

They recounted two similar incidents that were reported in the region in the past and said lack of strong action against the offenders had only emboldened them.

The police should immediately identify and arrest those involved in the incident, they said.

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