Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes the oath of office at the presidential palace; later in the ceremony, a 'leopard-like' animal was seemingly spotted prowling past at the top of the steps

New Delhi (AFP) - As India’s government took the oath of office at the presidential palace flanked by honour guards, a fleeting sight was spotted – an apparently leopard-like animal prowling past.

The animal was seen crossing through the highly guarded palace in the heart of the capital New Delhi, moving within a whisker of red carpeted steps just above where scores of India’s newly elected lawmakers sat, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Apparently unnoticed at the time, as the soldiers stood at attention and a lawmaker signed documents after swearing allegiance to the constitution, the creature was highlighted by eagle-eyed viewers online.

Local broadcaster NDTV called the animal “mysterious”, posting a viral clip of the sandy-coloured beast taken from footage of the event screened live on Indian television Sunday evening.

It was seen for less than four seconds on screen, moving in the shadows and making it hard to identify spots, stripes or other markings.

But Delhi’s police on Monday flatly rejected any “wild animal” theories – issuing a statement to stem speculation.

“The animal captured on camera is a common house cat,” it said in a post on X. “Please don’t adhere to such frivolous rumours.”

A crowd of thousands including South Asian heads of state attended the ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan palace in Delhi, and millions more watched live on television.

India’s media on Monday was earlier divided on the long-tailed animal.

The Hindustan Times described it as “a four-legged furry friend”.

The Times of India hedged its bets and called it a “cat-like creature”.

Street dogs and cats are common in Delhi, but rarely of the apparent size seen in the video.

Leopards too are occasionally spotted in wilder corners on the outskirts of the city.

The sprawling grounds of the presidential palace abut the Delhi Ridge forest, a thick tangled park.

Rapid development has largely isolated the Ridge forest, but it was traditionally an extension of the Aravalli hills.

The rugged range runs for hundreds of kilometres south into Rajasthan, home to tigers in reserves.

There are no cheetahs in Delhi.

The last Asiatic cheetah to roam the sub-continent was believed to have been hunted down in 1947 by an Indian prince.

Last year, cheetahs brought from Namibia were released into the wild in Kuno National Park, a wildlife sanctuary in central India.