16-month-old girl mauled to death by leopard in Aarey on Diwali morning

Mumbai A 16-month-old girl was mauled to death by a leopard in the early hours of Monday in Aarey Milk Colony.

The child, Itika Lot, was picked up by the animal a stone’s throw from her doorstep at 5:45am.

Her mother, Bharati, had left the front door open as she went outside to light a diya in a temple located a few feet away from their home to commemorate the first day of Diwali, when Itika followed her out.

The family lives at Aarey Colony’s Dairy Unit No. 15. The settlement borders the recently notified forest area of Aarey, now under the administrative control of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).

“As soon as the animal grabbed Itika, my sister-in-law alerted the neighbours. A large group of us fanned out to search. We found Itika in the jungle around 6:30, some 500 metres away from her house. She was badly injured. The leopard was still sitting there, barely 10 feet away,” said Satish Lot, the child’s uncle, who works with a volunteer group of wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists to track leopard activity in Aarey using camera traps.

Itika was rushed to the Seven Hills hospital at Marol, where she died soon after admission. A subsequent post-mortem at Siddharth Hospital pegged the cause of death as trauma and excessive blood loss.

“The child was clearly ambushed. It could be that the animal is learning to hunt. There are five leopards usually seen in the area, including a female, a dominant male, and their three children from the same litter. Locals said they saw a leopard sitting in a tree just two nights ago, so it may have been prowling in the area. We are doing our best to identify, track and capture the animal. A leopard was seen at 11:30am crossing the Aarey Road near Aarey hospital just a kilometre away,” a forest department staffer, not wanting to be identified said.

“This is the first instance of a leopard killing a human since 2017, when a young boy, the son of a forest department staffer, was killed at Film City. We are suspecting a sub-adult female is responsible for the attack. A total of 12 camera traps have been installed in the area to monitor leopard activity, and two cages have also been installed to trap the problem animal. We are urging the locals not to let their children out when it is dark, especially since today is Diwali and children will want to be out for bursting crackers,” G Mallikarjuna, director of Sanjay Gandhi National Park said.

Earlier this month, a four-year-old boy named Himanshu Yadav from Aarey Colony’s Charandevpada was attacked by a leopard while he was on his way to Navratri celebration with his father. Though he suffered claw injuries, he survived the attack. Earlier this year, a leopard (C32) was identified as being responsible for a spate of nine leopard attacks in Aarey Colony within a single month and captured by forest officials.