A screen grab from the Aarey video that went viral
A screen grab from the Aarey video that went viral
A 55-year-old woman was Wednesday caught on camera fending off a leopard as it prowled into her backyard and sought to attack her at Aarey colony, in the Mumbai suburb of Goregaon. This is the sixth leopard attack in the area within a month.

The video of the attack in Visva Workers Colony at 7.45 pm has since gone viral. It shows the woman, identified as Nirmaladevi Rambadan, sitting in the backyard of her house, unaware that the big cat is watching her movements. While she managed to fight off the leopard with a walking stick, she was injured in the incident and has scratch marks on her chest, face, and back. She was rushed to a hospital.

This is the third leopard attack in the area within a week in Aarey, an urban forestland that borders Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A four-year-old and a three-year-old were earlier rescued by local residents from leopard attacks.

"We suspect that a female leopard is on the prowl as two cubs have been found in the area. We have set up camera traps and increased patrolling in the area, we'll soon catch her," Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Thane Division, told ThePrint over the phone.

Amrita Bhattacharjee, a member of a local advocacy group, Aarey Conservation Group, blamed illegal encroachment and random development in the area for the increased leopard attacks.

"We've worked with the adivasi population and trained them how to fend off leopard attacks and how to keep these animals away. Slum-dwellers are usually attacked by leopards because they're not very aware of the animal's behaviour," she said.

"Aarey is bushy and has a lot of grassland which makes it ideal for leopards to give birth. Encroachers consider these areas wastelands and move in, which leads to man-animal conflicts," she told ThePrint over the phone.

DCF, Thane, however, said "no sudden encroachments" have happened here in the past two years. "The impact of encroachments is actually slow and not immediate," he added. "We've tracked Google images and haven't found a sudden increase in encroachments in the past 2 years. But yes, the number of leopards in the forest has undoubtedly increased as they are good breeders."

The DCF did not provide the number of leopards currently in the forest.

Why Aarey matters

Aarey is a forest in the middle of Mumbai. It is inhabited by adivasis, but slum-dwellers have increasingly encroached into the area.

In 1949, the 3,000 acres of forest land was marked off as Aarey Milk Colony. In 1977, 200 acres of land from the Colony was given to the Film City. In 2020, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government invoked Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act and declared 600 acres in the colony as reserved forest land.

Aarey Colony has 27 tribal hamlets with an adivasi population of more than 10,000 and it is home to 290 species of wild ​flora and fauna.