A group of police and forest officials in India fought off a leopard as they attempted to capture the wildcat from northern Panipat city.
Police officer Jagjeet Singh and three members of the wildlife department were injured in the encounter, which took place in Behrampur village in Panipat, about 85 kilometres from the Indian capital Delhi on Saturday.
“It was a big cat. It suddenly attacked us when the vet tried to tranquillise it. We had no choice but to act in our defence. We fought it with our bare hands,” Mr Singh told The National.
“The leopard was also sitting quietly but as we approached with a tranquilliser, it pounced on the vet. I had never seen a leopard before,” he added.
Harrowing visuals captured on mobile phones show the moment police and other officials wrestling with their bare hands as the leopard pounces on them. One officer can be seen using the police baton.
The wildcat had strayed into the village at around 5pm, creating panic among locals who called police for help.
Mr Singh, who was patrolling the area, reached the spot with a team of police and saw the leopard hiding under a wall. He informed the forest department of the need to rescue the big cat while monitoring its movements, he said.
A crowd of locals gathered to witness the operation and police had cordoned off the area.
Three hours later the terrified leopard was captured after being tranquillised.
Mr Singh and the forest officers sustained injuries during the encounter and are undergoing treatment. The leopard was later released in a nearby forest reserve.
India has a large leopard population, with more than 12,800 of the wildcats living in the country, according to a government report in 2021.
The population of leopards are more in the hilly states because of dense forest. Of late, the wildcats have been venturing into the plains and in human habitats in search for food ensuing human-leopard conflicts.
Last year, 310 leopard deaths were reported in the country. About 100 of them were killed by poaching, while others were killed in road accidents, or by electrocution or gunshots.
More than 100 people in India have been killed in tiger attacks in the past three years, junior environment minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey told India's parliament in April. He said 108 people were killed in encounters with tigers between 2019 and last year.