In another instance of human-animal conflict, a six-year-old girl living with her parents in the Shankar Tekdi area of Mulund (West) was killed and partially devoured by a leopard late on Sunday night.
Sanjana Thorat lived in the slums encroaching on the fringes of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with her father, mother, an elder brother and a sister.
Around 10.30 pm, Sanjana and her mother Sunita Thorat, 28, ventured 20-feet away from their hutment to answer nature's call, when the leopard emerged from the bushes and dragged the girl off.
Fifteen minutes after the attack, locals informed the police, but claim that the officials arrived an hour later and refused to enter the forest stating that it was unsafe.
Around 200 slum-dwellers had gathered and they launched an all-night search for Sanjana and called it off at around 5 am.
Officials of the forest department arrived around 7 am and the search operation resumed along with police officials.
Finally, a group of youngsters accompanied by a dog found Sanjana's head around 300 to 400 metres inside the forest.
"Sanjana wanted to go out to answer nature's call. We were about 20-feet away from our house when a full-grown leopard appeared and dragged her away into the thick bushes," said Sunita.
Locals claim that the police team reached the spot around 11.45 pm and refused to launch a search operation.
"When we asked the police to start a search operation, they refused saying that it was not safe to go inside the forest in the night," said the victim's neighbour, on condition of anonymity.
According to the locals, spotting leopards in the area has not alarmed them in the past.
"We have been staying here for over 20 years and spot leopards at least three or four times a month, but till date no humans have been attacked. Yesterday's incident has shocked us and we request the forest department to construct a boundary wall so that such incidents can be avoided," said Sunil, another neighbour of the deceased.Cause for concern
Sudhir Padwale, Thane Assistant Conservator of Forests, said that a distress call came in to the control room at 11.15 pm on Sunday. "Our team and a team from Sanjay Gandhi National Park reached the spot. We searched for some time, but stopped the operation and resumed searching at 7 am and the head of the deceased girl was found. We have instructed the locals not to allow children to venture out after dark," Padwale said. The forest department plans to install a cage in the area to trap the animal.
Wildlife expert speaks
Leopard Expert Krishna Tiwari said, "The incident is really unfortunate. Leopards rarely attack humans and the animal must have mistaken the sitting girl for a dog or goat. In order to avoid any further incidents, the people should make it a point not to leave small children unattended at night. The Forest department should start awareness campaigns in the area."