The growing number of incidents of leopard attacks on humans in the city has started a debate as to whether one of these spotted cats has become a maneater. The latest incident, in which Anthony VK, a private security guard in his fifties was killed and partially eaten while on duty at the water purification plant at Bhandup on Thursday, has raised questions as to how the animal managed to take down its adult victim.
Going by what forest department officials have elicited and based on expert opinion regarding leopard behaviour, Anthony may have been squatting on the ground, or sleeping while in an inebriated condition when the leopard pounced. The leopard attacked Anthony near his guard cabin and then dragged him for around 200 metres before settling down to eat.
Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Sudhir Padwale from Thane Forest Department said, “Even though there are murmurs that this is the work of a maneater, I would like to say that we cannot arrive at such conclusions without evidence. However after looking at the body of the deceased and speaking to workers at the site, we learned he (Anthony) was a habitual drinker. Though he finished his duty at 8 pm, he remained at the site. He may have been asleep while under the influence of alcohol or sitting on the ground when the attack happened.”
Leopard Expert Krishna Tiwari from City Forest Initiative said the though last three attacks happened in a radius of three to four kilometres, it is not enough to indicate that a maneater is on the prowl. “However, the fact that the body was dragged for around 200 metres shows that the animal is full-grown. If possible, the forest department should set up cameras in the area to get footage or pictures of the animals that frequent the area and keep tabs on them,” Tiwari said.
A wildlife expert who has been gathering pictures and data on the flora and fauna in Sanjay Gandhi National Park since the past 20 years, said on condition of anonymity, “The spurt in attacks is an issue of concern, but at the same time the forest department should also understand why the animals are venturing out of the park. Rising encroachment in and around national park is a major cause. SGNP is spread across 104 square kilometres and as per my data, there is one leopard for every four square kilometres here. Encroachment is causing a space for these animals, which is driving them out of their natural habitat and may lead to even more attacks.”