A stray leopard has sparked panic in northern India - running inside a hospital, a movie theatre and an apartment block while being pursued by captors.
Authorities closed schools and colleges in Meerut, 60 kilometres north-east of the Indian capital, after the leopard was discovered prowling the city's streets on Sunday (local time), additional district magistrate SK Dubey said.
The leopard was found inside an empty ward of an army hospital on Sunday before wildlife officers were called and managed to fire a tranquilliser dart into it, Dubey said.
"But despite that he managed to break (out through) the iron grilles and escaped. He then sneaked into the premises of a cinema hall before entering an apartment block. After that we lost track of the cat," he said.
"Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to track the leopard down. We have launched a massive hunt for the beast."
Authorities have urged the closure of markets in the city of 3.5 million until the animal, which has left six people injured, was captured, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Large crowds gathering to catch a glimpse of the big cat were hampering efforts of police, soldiers and wildlife officials charged with hunting the animal down, PTI said.
The leopard on the loose is the latest in a string of incidents raising concerns about depleting habitats for big cats which is forcing them into populated areas.
Last week another leopard killed a five-year-old boy in the central state of Chhattisgarh.
Video footage from Mumbai last year showed a leopard creeping into an apartment block foyer and snatching a small dog.
A tiger on the prowl in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh since last December is believed to have killed some ten people, and wildlife officials are still trying to hunt it down.
Conservation group WWF called for better management of forests and other habitats for India's leopard population, which numbered 1150 at a 2011 census.
"Leopards are large territorial mammals, they need space to move around. Some of their corridors are getting blocked so there is bound to be an interface," Deepankar Ghosh of WWF-India said.
"We can't put all the leopards into cages. We can't remove all the people living near forested areas. We have to manage the situation the best way we can."
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