Mazhar Ali, TNN CHANDRAPUR: The situation turned ugly at village Kitali near Chandrapur when the problem leopard in the area killed yet another person on Thursday morning. Irate villagers chased away the forest staff and rescue workers from the village. Later, villagers set the nearby forest ablaze after rescue workers failed to capture the beastwhen it reappeared at the scene after some time.
This is the eighth human kill in the district, sixth in the area around Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), in the last 25 days. With the man-animal conflict worsening, forest officials have sought permission to shoot the leopard. The PCCF (wildlife) office is likely to issue orders to shoot the man-eater leopard later in the night.

The spot of Thursday's incident is 3km from where a teenage girl was killed at Payali village on Wednesday. Forest officials are convinced that the same leopard is involved in both killings.

Thursday's victim Gopika Kalsarpe (50) was attacked on Tadoba road, near Kitali village in Chandrapur forest range, while going to her farm in the morning. A patrolling team of forest guards and NGO activists was present in the area due to reports of the leopard having killed a goat and a dog. A forest guard even warned Gopika about the leopard in the area and offered to escort her to the farm, but she refused the offer.

Gopika was attacked by the leopard hardly 100 meters from where she met the patrolling team. The patrolling staff rushed to her rescue on hearing her cries. NGO activist Rahul Virutkar threw a stone to drive away the beast, which was sitting over the victim.
Gopika had sustained serious injuries on the throat and right hand. As a huge crowd gathered at the spot, forest officials rushed her to Chandrapur Civil Hospital in the rescue vehicle of Rapid Response Unit (RRU). Doctors declared her dead at the hospital.

The riot control squad and police staff from Durgapur police station were summoned after a huge crowd gathered at the scene. Meanwhile, the leopard was seen sitting in a cement pipe close to the scene. While villagers surrounded the place, rescue workers had to wait over an hour for all the tranquillizing and capturing equipment in the RRU vehicle, which had taken the injured to hospital. Then, as rescue workers were preparing the net and tranquillizing gun, the leopard, disturbed by the crowd, fled the place.

"We had barely 10 minutes for the capturing operation after the RRU vehicle came back and before the beast fled," said honorary wildlife warden and senior rescue leader Bandu Dhotre. The crowd, however, blamed the foresters for the delay and turned upon them.

ACF ND Kursange, Bandu Dhotre, forest staffers and other rescue workers slipped away from the scene fearing an attack by angry crowd. "The berserk mob first burned the rescue net used by forest workers. They later lit torches with the burning net and went deep into the forest to set the dry brush blaze. Cops and riot control squad watched helplessly while the angry mob went on a rampage," said wildlife activist Dinesh Kate, who was present at the scene.

As an alert was issued regarding the spreading forest fire, RFO Moharli (buffer) and DS Rautkar rushed with his staff of over 40 people from within the forest, and brought the fire under control within a couple of hours. "We doused the fire and stopped it from spreading into the TATR buffer zone. Around two to three hectare jungle was burned," Rautkar said.

Meanwhile, forest officials held an emergency meeting at Chandrapur regarding the deteriorating man-leopard conflict situation. They decided to recommend shooting the leopard to senior staff in the forest department. A joint proposal signed by deputy director TATR (buffer) P Kalyankumar and DFO Chandrapur Vinay Thakre was sent to PCCF (wildlife), seeking permission to shoot the problem leopard.

"The leopard is behaving abnormally. It is attacking humans and shifting between nearby villages. Hence, we have sought permission to shoot the leopard. I explained the situation to principal secretary (forest) Pravin Pardeshi and he has directed us to take appropriate steps, including shooting the problem animal if necessary," Kalyankumar told TOI. Formal orders to shoot the leopard were awaited till late in the night.

Meanwhile, the body of the victim was brought to the village after a post mortem. Forest officials said they gave ex-gratia aid of Rs 25,000 to kin of the victim. Funeral rites of Gopika Kalsarpe were performed under tight security arrangements.

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