INDIA: December 13, 2006
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian authorities plan to release 47 leopards into the wild with electromagnetic chips planted in their tails but will haul them back to captivity if they attack people, The Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday.
The leopards were caught in 2004 and 2005 after some of them strayed from a national park on the outskirts of Mumbai and killed people in the city and its suburbs, creating panic.
But the environment ministry ordered the western state of Maharashtra to release the leopards -- saying a year or more in captivity was too long -- and local officials say they plan to free the animals soon.
Coded electronmagnetic chips have been embedded in the leopards' tails so that if a released leopard attacks people again it can be tracked and recaptured. A leopard caught attacking people again would be permanently locked up.
"An animal which keeps attacking humans is not fit to be left loose," B. Majumdar, Maharashtra's Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, was quoted in the newspaper as saying.
In 2004, at least 14 people were killed in Mumbai after leopards strayed from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a 103 sq km (40 sq mile) protected forest on the northern rim of India's financial hub, and entered nearby neighborhoods.
Wildlife experts say the increasing population of Mumbai -- home to more than 16 million people -- and the development of new residential blocks has blurred the distinction between the city and the countryside, leading to leopard attacks.
The captured leopards are being kept in small cramped cages in three locations in Maharashtra.
It is illegal to kill leopards, an endangered species in Africa and Asia often hunted for their fur.