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Leopards cross over from park to urban jungle

All of last fortnight, residents say, stray dogs in the upmarket north-east suburb of Powai behaved in a strange manner. Numbering over 30, ...

Written by Vijay Singh | Mumbai |
October 15, 2003

All of last fortnight, residents say, stray dogs in the upmarket north-east suburb of Powai behaved in a strange manner. Numbering over 30, they trooped around together like a proper army unit up against a predator. And as night fell, they would bark and howl tirelessly.

It didn’t take long for residents to figure it out. Last Wednesday evening, one of the 40-odd leopards living in the adjoining national park had strayed out, ambled around the picturesque Powai lake, crossed the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli link road, and attacked a four-year-old boy of Bombay Scottish High School, Anmol Bansal, while he was playing in the elite Raheja Vihar Complex.

It was the 23rd panther attack in Mumbai this year, and Anmol was the 10th Mumbaikar to die.

The leopard had scaled a high boundary wall separating the complex from the Shipping Corporation of India’s premises to enter the playground. The young victim’s father, Manish Bansal, who works for SEBI (Securities Exchange Board of India) is too shocked to even speak about the tragedy involving his only child. Needless to say, the other children no longer come downstairs to play on the swings and merry-go-rounds in the park.

‘‘I’ve lost a good student,’’ mourns Cynthia D’souza, class teacher of Jr.Kg student Anmol Bansal.

‘‘My son couldn’t sleep all night and my 14-year old daughter wept for three hours,’’ says Anju Sharma, mother of Ashrush (4), who often played with Anmol.

Ladies at the local beauticians’ salon can be overheard saying: ‘‘I tell my kids to watch as much TV in the house as possible and avoid going down to play!’’

The attack stunned the city because it was the first such incident in an affluent area where residents include stock brokers, builders, bankers and income-tax officers.

Just three days later, a pregnant female leopard was successfully trapped in the Powai campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)—the sixth such trap this year so far.

A wild leopard here is an amazing oddity.

‘‘Actually, Mumbai is a rare metropolis to have a 103-square-km wide national park within the city, with an array of flora and fauna including 40 leopards and the recent addition of a tiger, which is good news for environmentalists.

However, sometimes the panthers stray out of the park in search of easy prey like dogs, and unfortunately also attack humans,’’ says Deputy Wildlife Conservator of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park A R Bharati.

A leopard can easily adapt itself to the modern environment—shocked residents of Goregaon have reported spotting a panther foraging through a municipal bin in early mornings.

‘‘The number of leopard sightings and attacks have increased rather sharply over the recent years, as a lot of jungle area has been dereserved for construction. So where does the panther go?,’’ asks IIT’s Chief Security Officer Major R Dhankar.

So what really is a solution? ‘‘The forest officials must fence off the entire national park so that humans can be protected from wild animals and vice versa,’’ says environmentalist Debi Goenka.

However, he adds cautiously that with more and more new building proposals coming up on the fringes of the jungle—at Kandivli, Dahisar and Thane—it becomes obvious that people are flirting with danger by moving their concrete jungles so close to the real thing.

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