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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 17:47 GMT
Leopards spread fear in Bombay

By Jayshree Bajoria
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Asian leopard
Leopards have killed 12 people in Bombay this year
Residents in parts of India's business capital, Bombay (Mumbai), are living in fear of an unusual foe - leopards.

The big cats have been entering busy residential areas and attacking humans.

Over the past year, 12 people, mostly children, have been killed in some 22 attacks near the sprawling national park in the city's Powai area.

Five-year-old Anmol Bansal, who lived in a posh high-rise apartment, was one of the latest victims.

When darkness falls, we take our children inside because no one knows when the leopards will appear
Powai resident Puklit Mathur
"I cannot believe that such a thing can happen," Anmol's distraught mother, Neeru Bansal, told BBC News Online.

"The park officials say that the [residential] buildings have been built on encroached land... and the state government is unable to provide security to the citizens."

Fears after dark

The leopards sneak into Powai from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, an urban lung which covers 100 square kilometres and is a haven for wildlife - including leopards.

High rise apartments in Powai
Residents in the posh neighbourhoods of Powai are up in arms
This patch of greenery dotted with lakes and caves is a boon to the polluted and congested city.

The lakes are, in fact, natural reservoirs for a largely water-starved metropolis.

But residents of Powai have been living in fear of leopard attacks and are scared to venture out after dark.

Puklit Mathur, a mother of two children, is one of them.

She watches over her two children like a hawk - even when they are playing inside the boundaries of the high-rise apartment block where they live.

"I have to be with them all the time, even when they come down to the playground. When darkness falls, we take our children inside because no one knows when the leopards will appear," says Mrs Mathur.


The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), a prestigious engineering school, is located in Powai and is a favourite haunt of the leopards.

Eight out of the 13 leopards captured in Powai this year have been caught inside the school's campus.

Children playing at Raheja Vihar colony in Powai
Most of those killed have been children
"Almost every other day we see a leopard here," says the school's security officer, Rajesh Dhankar.

The campus has been lit up brightly, and security men carrying fireworks keep a round the clock vigil to scare off the cats.

The students have even designed their own cages to trap the leopards.

Park officials blame the rising number of humans living around the park for this man-animal conflict.

"There are thousands of people trespassing into the park," says senior park official AR Bharati.

Mr Bharati is also critical of new buildings around the park.

"When builders advertise the flats, they tell their clients that they will get beautiful views of the park from their apartments. When it comes to security, they cry foul and ask us to remove the leopards."

Local anger

Now the forest department is planning to build a wall more than three metres high and 90 kilometres long around the park to keep the leopards in.

Shikha Thomas
It is really weird that in a city like Bombay we have to live in fear of leopards
Powai resident Shikha Thomas
Officials are also trying to move some of the leopards out of the park.

Meanwhile, students at IIT are busy totting up their leopard sightings.

"I am probably the only student who has yet to see a leopard. They have paid my hostel a visit at least four times, and graced the football field once," says a disappointed Anuj Pradhan.

This year the school's popular annual festival had a cat called Claws as its mascot.

Powai residents are not amused, however. Shikha Thomas, one local, says she is angry at the indifference of the authorities.

"It is really weird that in a city like Bombay we have to live in fear of leopards. It's worse than living in a village," she says.

"We have bought a house here, so we have to stay here. Where can we go?"

Stray leopard stalks Delhi factory
03 Jan 03  |  South Asia
Leopard in the living room
29 Oct 98  |  South Asia

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