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Leopard on the prowl panics bustling Indian city

Leopard on the prowl panics bustling Indian city
In this Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014 photo, an Indian man moves out of the way of a leopard in the northern Indian city of Meerut, India.
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MEERUT, India (AP) - Forestry officials and police armed with tranquilizer darts searched for a leopard that injured six people and drove residents indoors in a bustling northern Indian city, police said Tuesday.

The leopard wandered through an army hospital and a crowded market in Meerut city on Sunday, setting off a minor stampede in which two more people were hurt, said police superintendent Abhiskek Singh.

Authorities ordered schools and colleges closed on Monday and asked people to stay indoors as police teams scoured the city. Shopkeepers lowered their shutters and the city streets emptied. Soldiers also joined the hunt after the leopard was first spotted in the army hospital Sunday afternoon.

"We cordoned off the area and waited. It emerged some hours later and jumped, injuring a police inspector," Singh said. The animal leaped over the roofs of single-storied homes and disappeared.

Since then groups of wildlife officials wearing helmets and carrying tranquilizer guns and volunteers armed with sticks have been searching a wide swathe around the hospital.

At one point, forestry officials closed in on the leopard in a warehouse, but it leaped through a concrete grill, breaking it and escaping.

"It's a fully grown male ... a big animal with enormous strength, which is what has panicked residents," Singh said.

"We were afraid to go out of the house. There was a lot of panic and fear," homemaker Pooja Mahajan said Tuesday. "But no one has spotted the leopard since yesterday, so today things are back to normal."

Singh said schools and colleges reopened Tuesday.

Wildlife officials were on alert but it was likely the animal had fled to nearby forests, he said.

Leopards are protected in India, though more are straying into cities and villages to search for food as their habitats shrink.

Meerut, a bustling commercial city in Uttar Pradesh state, is about 70 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of the Indian capital, New Delhi.

In another part of Uttar Pradesh, a female tiger has killed nine people, most of them poor villagers and farm laborers living on the fringes of a wildlife reserve park.

Forest officials roped in wildlife hunters to track down the tiger but gave up after nearly two weeks of a futile search.
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Armed officers comb ambush suspect's woods Armed officers comb ambush suspect's woods