leopard attack
First recorded incident of a leopard finding its way into Mulund-east; the cat covered a distance of nearly 5 km outside the National Park.

A leopard that strayed into a residential colony in Mulund east early Saturday morning attacked five people and could be trapped only after a marathon rescue operation by forest officials that left the neighbourhood on the edge for over five hours.

This was the first recorded incident of a leopard finding its way into Mulund-east and forest officials said the cat covered a distance of nearly 5 km outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, its natural habitat.

Among the five injured in the leopard attack was Ganesh Pujari, 45, an electrician, who fought off the leopard to save his 18-year-old son's life after being pounced upon in their house in Nane Pada.

Pujari not only managed to fend off the leopard, but he also ran out of the house with his son and locked the door behind him, trapping the animal inside.

Before entering Pujari's house, the leopard attacked Krisnamma Pillai, 40, leaving her with a bloodied forearm. Dashrath Kevate, 40, Savita Kute, 30, and Suresh Vasudhakar, 50, were attacked when they heard Pillai's screams and ventured out to help her.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park forest officials transporting the tranquillised wild cat

Sanjay Gandhi National Park forest officials transporting the tranquillised wild cat
While the series of attacks took place between 7 and 7.15 am, the forest officials armed with tranquilisers arrived at the scene only around 8.45 am. During the intervening period, it was left to a bunch of police officers and residents armed with sticks to keep a watch on the animal.

The rescue operation took another three-and-a-half hours, during which all exits from Pujari's house and neighbouring buildings were shut and residents moved to safety.

The leopard, scared and disoriented, was tranquilised around noon by Dr Shailesh Pethe, the National Park's veterinary officer. It was taken in an ambulance to the National Park, where it will remain under observation for a while before being released in the wild.

Deputy Conservator of Forests (Thane) Dr Jitendra Ramgaonkar denied there was any delay on his team's part. "We got a call at around 7.30 am and our team immediately rushed to the spot. Whatever little time we took to reach the spot was because of arrangements to be made for the rescue operation," he said.

The man-animal conflict in areas around the National Park has become acute in the past decade or so with development of residential colonies jutting the park's boundaries.

In this case, however, forest officials said, the leopard exited the park from its Mulund region and trekked a long distance to reach Nane Pada. "We would assume that the leopard went through the Bhandup pumping station before crossing the LBS Marg and the Eastern Express Highway to reach the spot where it was eventually trapped," said Ramgaonkar.

Sunish Subramanian, honorary wildlife warden, said that he received a call from a motorist who reported spotting a leopard crossing Eastern Express Highway near Navghar bridge. "We rushed to the spot, but found nothing. The Nane Pada incident confirms that the motorist did indeed spot a leopard," he said.

The National Park and the Thane Forest Department have a database of leopards in the park. Pawan Sharma, honorary wildlife warden, said all rescued leopards are fitted with a micro-chip to track their movements. "The leopard rescued on Saturday did not have a chip. So, this is the first time he has been rescued," he said.