Mumbai: SGNP mourns death of beloved leopard Raja

Raja, the 20-year-old leopard who died yesterday, was well known for the affectionate relationships he had with the forest department officials at Sanjay Gandhi National Park

There has been a cloud of shock and gloom over the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) since yesterday, when one of the park’s oldest and most beloved leopard, Raja passed away. The 20-year-old leopard was a favourite with all the Chief Conservators of Forest (CCFs) who had worked at the park since he arrived there as a cub in 1992.

A cloud of gloom and shock loomed over the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) yesterday, when one of the park’s oldest and most beloved leopard, Raja, passed away. File pic
A cloud of gloom and shock loomed over the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) yesterday, when one of the park’s oldest and most beloved leopard, Raja, passed away. File pic

Raja died on Monday morning, in an enclosure outside the park director’s bungalow, where he had spent the past 20 years, along with his mate, Rani (also known as Krishna). “Raja, a male leopard who was staying in the enclosure outside my official bungalow, has died. He had stopped eating from Saturday night itself.

The exact reason for his death will come forward after we get the autopsy report, but primarily, it appears that it must have happened because of old age. Raja’s death is unfortunate because he had a great bond with all the CCFs and their family members who have stayed in the official bungalow since 1992,” said SGNP Director and Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF), Vikas Gupta.

Spotted as a cub
In 1992, Raja was found abandoned by his mother near a tribal hamlet next to the Film City. Fearing the cub would die if left in the forest, a tribal resident brought him to SGNP. Raja was hand-reared with the utmost care and love by not only the forest officials or the CCFs, but also by the caretakers and other forest staff.

In 1995, Raja got a companion Rani, a female leopard that was about a year old when she was released in Raja’s enclosure. Both leopards had a close bond with each other. However, since Raja’s death, Rani has been in shock, quietly sitting in the enclosure since Sunday night, said officials.

Fond memories
Raja, who was fond of chicken and beef, also had a soft spot for biscuits, a fact that charmed the forest department officials. But perhaps, his most endearing trait was his ability to bond with his caretakers and officials. Anand Bharti, who was the longest serving CCF at SGNP from 1993 to 2004, spoke of Raja as a loving leopard.

“My wife and I first saw Raja in 1993, when I had just taken charge as the Deputy Conservator of Forest of SGNP. He was just a year old then. Over the years we spent at the CCF bungalow, Raja became an integral part of our family and we raised him like our son.

He was so attached to us, that in the mornings, he would wait for us to come near his cage and touch his head gently, before he would go and sleep in the enclosure.” Bharti visited Raja even after he had retired from the position and vacated the bungalow.

“Usually people say that animals’ memory is not good, and they don’t recognise you if you haven’t met in years, but I would say this is wrong. My wife and I went to SGNP a few years ago, and when we reached Raja’s enclosure, he had recognised us within seconds.

He scrambled at the cage until I patted his back, and then he just nudged my hand with his head. The news of his demise has come as a shock to us, especially because we watched both him and Rani grow from small cubs to adult leopards,” he said.

Sunil Limaye, also a former CCF, said, “Raja was the most loving leopard that I have ever come across. When I was the CCF, I used to visit his enclosure every morning and evening. He would wait for me each time, such was our bond. The news of his death is really unfortunate.”

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