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World

Leopard shuts down Nepal's international airport

Nepal had to shut down its only international airport on Monday. The culprit was a leopard loose on the airport's single runway.

A wild leopard briefly closed down Nepal's Tribhuwan International Airport on Monday after a pilot for a private airline spotted the animal close to the runway.

Wildlife and security officers set off in pursuit of the common leopard, blocking drains around the airport that the animal was thought to be hiding in, officials said.

"We closed the airport for about 30 minutes after the incident was reported but we haven't found the leopard yet," said Prem Nath Thakur, spokesman for the airport. "We are trying to capture the animal after it entered the drains. We have mobilized a total of 50 people including firefighters, security forces and wildlife officials,"

One international flight was delayed by the incident, but no other flight was scheduled during the closure. The airport,which can accommodate 13 helicopters, services around 3 million passengers a year. Some 30 international airlines use Tribhuwan International Airport, located in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, to connect the country to destinations in Asia and the Middle East.

Nepal Erdbeben Rettungseinsatz Hubschrauber Huey (Reuters/R. J. Larson)

While it is quiet by international standards, Tribhuwan International Airport has space for more than a dozen military helicopters.

Kathmandu lies on the edge of forested hills and leopards have been known to occasionally wander into the city. While the big cats are found mostly in protected areas in Nepal's southern plains and northern hills, they have made increasing appearances in human settlements in recent months.

In February, police and zoo officials tracked a wild leopard on the outskirts of Kathmandu, before tranquilizing it and transporting it to a zoo. Two weeks later, another leopard strayed into a densely populated neighborhood near the airport. The cat climbed a tree to nap and promptly left after spending the night.

Experts attribute their increasing excursions to loss of habitat.

This is not the first time wildlife has caused problems at the single-runway airport. While stray cattle and dogs have also been known to harmlessly disrupt flights, birds have posed serious safety threats.

Last year, a plane with nine passengers was forced to make an emergency landing when a bird struck its right wing. In 2012, 19 people were killed when an aircraft hit a vulture and crashed just after take-off.

While flights have since resumed, the search for the animal continues.

mcm/msh (AP, AFP)

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