Murbad has been left in shock ever since the death of two elderly villagers in two separate leopard attacks over the weekend. Such instances of man-leopard conflict have not been witnessed in the area in seven years, and local residents — both, human and animal — are shaken to the core. According to reports, the forest department sought orders to shoot the leopard from wildlife headquarters at Nagpur, and have been given a go ahead.

Highly unusual

The first incident took place on Friday evening. With no eyewitnesses or evidence to prove what exactly happened to provoke the animal, officials are still trying to understand the unusual circumstances under which the attack took place. For one, it was still daylight when the leopard attacked tribal farmer, Mirabai Ware (55). She was in an open area, returning from her neighbour's house just 300 metres from her own home, when the leopard is thought to have pounced on her and dragged her away. "Family members followed the trail of blood till they found her body in the bushes," said a forest official.

Hunger was not the motive - the leopard did not feed on the body. There were, however claw and teeth injuries on her body that indicate she tried to fight off the big cat. There is no sign yet that it was a deliberate attack; Thane Forest Department (FD) officials are investigating whether the woman was crouching on the ground to relieve herself, which may have led the leopard to mistake her for prey.

Officials say

"I cannot comment on whether it was a deliberate attack or just an accident because we don't have eyewitnesses. We don't even know whether the victim was sitting on the ground or was walking when the incident happened. We have been working on this operation since Saturday and have set up trap cages to catch the leopard," said Mayur Kamath, honorary wildlife warden of Mumbai and member of the State Wildlife Board. The leopard rescue team from Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Thane FD team are posted in the area.

"Our team in Tokawade village has already started camera trapping in the area and has also increased patrolling. The officials have started awareness programmes in the villages and tribal hamlets and distributed pamphlets area informing the villagers about the dos and don'ts in such situations. We are taking the best possible measures to trap the animal," said Kishor Thakare, deputy conservator of forest, Thane.

According to FD officials, there is another leopard prowling neighbouring villages, where it attacks dogs and small cattle. Even on the day Mirabai was killed in Singapur, a leopard was sighted in the nearby Vaishakhare village.

Chickens die of shock

At around 2 am on the same night, the leopard was also spotted near a poultry farm in the village, over 1 km away from the spot where the woman was killed. Sensing the presence of the big cat, some chickens died of the shock. According to locals, the leopard twice attempted to enter the poultry farm, late on Saturday night and in the wee hours of Sunday. FD officials have got the video footage of the leopard from the camera traps they installed, and they said it is a huge male leopard. "There have been a few attacks on the livestock in the last two to three months. The Forest Department should make sure that the animal behind the attack is trapped at the earliest because already one human death has happened," said one of the villagers.

Second attack

Yet another villager, Barku Bhoir (52), was killed by a leopard last night, while he was grazing his cattle in the Palu-Sonawale dam area, 4 km from Singapur.

A mob of 300 angry locals stoned FD vehicles in protest, forcing officials to run for their lives. The riot police were called to control the situation. "Now the only option is to eliminate the animal before another incident," said Mayur Kamath, honorary wildlife warden of Mumbai.

Last attack in Mumbai

In October 2013, 4-year-old Hiya Mhase was killed in a leopard encounter in Khadakpada, which is 500-700 metres away from the proposed site of the Metro III car depot in Aarey Colony

In the same month, Sunil Bhor (10) was injured in man-leopard conflict at Navpada, just 300 meters away