| Locals inspect a cage kept on the outskirts of Mumbai to trap leopards. (Reuters)
Mumbai, June 28: If only the pigs can stop the leopards!
Five hundred pigs would carry the hope of terrified humans on their soft, rounded shoulders against the deadly teeth and claws of the big cats.
According to a plan drawn up by the Maharashtra government, the pigs will be let into the Sanjay Gandhi National Park on the northern fringes of Mumbai to act as “human shields” against the man-eaters, which have already killed 12 people this month.
Forest minister Swarup Singh Naik on Saturday said the pigs, caught from Nawapur, Kalyan and Nagpur, would be sent into the forest area as prey for the leopards, which stray into human settlements near the park and strike with blinding speed before melting into the 103-sq-km forest area. “This will be done within 10 days,” Naik said. “Let us see how this experiment goes.”
The latest victim — the 12th this month besides the seven killed till May this year — was 55-year-old Kushababu Pujari, a resident of Gaibaccha Durgah in Mulund, who was killed this morning. Last night, a leopard killed Raju Yadav as the 18-year-old boy slept in his house in Aarey Colony. Raju was on a visit to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh.
Two government employees were seriously injured today while trying to tranquillise a leopard they had trapped. The animal had strayed into the residential Raheja Vihar compound on the outskirts of the park. The two, identified as police constable Suresh Dharmapurkar and forest department employee Vaibhav Patil, have been admitted to hospital.
Leopards are “hunting humans at will”, said a forest officer.
Last year, there were 30 attacks by leopards, half of them fatal. In 2002, 17 persons died in 25 attacks.
Forest guard Mukund Jiparaja recounted an earlier attack that killed 10-year-old Soni. “The kid was sleeping on a charpoy outside his hut and his parents were sleeping almost right next to him. But that didn’t deter the beast. It lunged at the child, dug its razor-sharp fangs into his neck and dragged it to the deeper part of the forest with amazing speed and strength. It was over within minutes.”
When four-year-old Nagappa Pujari was killed outside her home in Goregaon last week, forest officials repeated the old story about “human encroachment into the forest area”. They said parents should not leave children alone after dark and that “leopards strike either children or grown-ups who are small in size or squatting”.
But the death of Kuldeep Singh Chahal, a 60-year-old Sikh who stood 5 feet 10 inches, broke the myth. Chahal was taking an early morning walk when a leopard attacked him. The list lengthened as Ruchita Pukale, 3, Nanga Baba, a 50-year-old fakir, Babban Jagan Bhopi, 45, Neeraj Gurude, 3, Nisha, 14, Arjun Dagdu Waghe, 70, and six-year-old Kanchan Yadav fell prey to the beasts.
The cats often take a brazen stroll in urban and sometimes crowded areas. On June 7, a panther barged into a marriage party at Gladys Alvares Marg in Thane. On June 23, Shashank Singh, an MTech student at IIT Powai, was chased by a leopard inside the campus. Fortunately for him, the leopard ran away startled when the cycle Shashank was riding fell on the road with a loud crash.
Forest guard Sudhakar Geete, who locks himself in his small cabin in the forest after dusk each evening, said the monsoon has brought death with it. “I had never heard of so many killings,” he said. “In the rains, the wild cats come out because of too many mosquitoes in the forest. Moreover, they have smelt easy prey.”
Chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had earlier said the leopards should be trapped and pushed into other sanctuaries, but environmentalists said the plan was not feasible.