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Animatronic leopard stops Londoners in their tracks for 'Big Cat Week'

LONDON An animatronic leopard stopped Londoners in their tracks on Wednesday in Trafalgar Square, where it sat roaring as part of satellite TV channel Nat Geo Wild’s Big Cat Week campaign.

Called “Lily,” the robotic leopard is intended to raise awareness about threats to the habitat of real leopards, who increasingly have to co-exist with humans.

“These animals are roaming the streets in places like Mumbai because we’re taking up to 90 per cent of their natural habitat,” John Nolan, who created the 15-kilogram, 1.3-metre long leopard, told Reuters.

Several sub-species of leopards are critically endangered, with those in Asia threatened by a loss of range of up to 87 percent, according to research led by the Institute of Zoology’s A.P. Jacobson.

“As habitat across the world continues to disappear and more pressure is being put on species of wildlife, including all of the cats, we’re seeing more incidents of human-wildlife conflict on a daily basis,” said Giles Clark, managing director of the Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden, England.

Lily has over more than 40 moving parts and is controlled remotely by three operators. She can’t walk, but she can roar, blink and twitch her tail. Clark’s career has been spent working with actual big cats, and he said Lily was “pretty realistic”.

“Put it this way, I wouldn’t want to bump into her in a dark alley,” Clark said.

Nat Geo WILD’s Big Cat Week is a weeklong series of programmes with a feline focus running until March 12.

(Reporting by Helena Williams, writing by Maytaal Angel, editing by Larry King)