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Sri Lankan authorities were seeking Friday nearly a dozen men who beat a leopard to death after it strayed into a village and attacked people, a minister said.

Wildlife deputy minister Palitha Thewarapperuma said police were deployed to arrest those responsible for Thursday’s animal killing, which was captured on mobile phones and shared on social media.

"It is sickening to see these images," Thewarapperuma told parliament. "We are taking action to arrest all those responsible for this extreme cruelty."

Wildlife officials had been alerted to the leopard’s intrusion into a village in Kilinochchi 330 kilometres (210 miles) north of Colombo on Thursday morning, but they were beaten and chased away by the locals, he said.

"Our officers were trying to tranquilise the animal and take it away, but the villagers did not allow them to do their job and instead killed the leopard," the minister said.

He said 10 people injured by the leopard had been admitted to a local hospital.

Leopards are protected animals in Sri Lanka and they are also in the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of endangered animals.

Harming leopards in Sri Lanka is punishable by jail terms up to five years. The wild population of leopards on the island is estimated at fewer than 1,000.

Six people were jailed in March 2016 after posting photos online showing them skinning a sea eagle alive.

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