In a tragic incident late on Sunday night, a six-year-old girl was killed and partially devoured by a man-eating leopard, which reportedly emerged from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) near Mulund, located just behind the slum where the child used to live.
The girl, Sanjana Thorat, was playing with her toy about a few feet away from her house while her mother was standing merely 10 m away, when suddenly a giant leopard attacked the little one and dragged her into the national park.
"I suddenly heard my daughter shout out for me. That is when I saw a big leopard grab her by the neck and drag her into the forest," child's mother Sangeeta Thorat told Hindustan Times.
The mother immediately ran behind to rescue her daughter, but within fraction of seconds the leopard disappeared into the dense 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," NDTV quoted child's mother as saying.
Soon after the locals informed the police, her parents along with hundreds of neighbors went inside the dark forest with bamboo sticks and torch in search of the child. However, they returned back without the child after a futile all-night search in the dense forest.
"It was too dark. I went almost 100 meters inside the dense forest but we didn't know which direction the leopard took Sanjana," an online daily Afternoon quoted Nyaneshwar Thorat as telling.
Later on Monday morning, the forest officials along with the police recovered her skull in the bushes nearly 4 kms away from the spot of the attack. The remains of the child were sent for post-mortem to Rajawadi hospital in Ghatkopar, the police said.
"We searched for the body 4km inside the park. The entire area falls in the leopard's regular trail," Sanjiv Pinjarkar, the veterinary officer of SGNP said.
Meanwhile, the locals have accused the police officials of reaching late and refusing to launch the search operation at night. The locals said that though they had informed the police immediately after the incident occurred at around 10:30 pm, they reached late.
"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," victim's neighbour told NDTV.
Apparently, there is no boundary wall separating the forest and the slums surrounding the national park. Though no such incident has happened in the past, locals say that the wild cats are often sighted in the area.
"Yesterday's incident has shocked us and we request the forest department to construct a boundary wall so that such incidents can be avoided," Sunil, a neighbour told the news channel.
The police said that such incidents are not common; however, they will patrol the area for a few days. The forest department said they have planned to install cage in the forest to trap the leopard and till then has instructed the locals to avoid going near the area when dark falls.
Sanjana used to live with her parents and siblings in the slum near the eastern border of the national park in the Shankar Tekdi area of Mulund (West).