On April 10, 55 year old Tukaram Dharane was walking back to his village Adegaon in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra after dropping some of his relatives at the bus stop which is two km away from his village.
On the way back, he found some Mahua trees and decided to collect some Mahua fruits. When Tukaram was engrossed in collecting the Mahua, suddenly a leopard attacked him and killed him within a minute.
The news of Tukaram’s killing spread like a wild fire and within half an hour almost all the villagers of Adegaon and neighbouring Chorgaon, Agarjhari, Devhara and Odiaytola villages gathered at the spot.
Sixty seven year old Malanbai Munghate, a neighbour of Tukaram, also decided to go the place of incident out of curiosity.
But even before, she could reach the spot; the same leopard which was hiding on a nearby tree jumped over Malanbai and killed her.
“My Grandmother was killed in front of 400 people and we could do nothing” rues Jivankala Bhoyer, the granddaughter of Malanbai.
Adegaon and area around it had never witnessed an incident like this before.
“We saw leopards moving in this area earlier as well but it never attacked anyone” says Ms. Jivankala.
Adegaon was not the only village where the Leopard killed a human in this area.
The spate of killings by Leopards began on March 24 when a leopard killed Anusuya Shende of Usarpar village in the district.
On April 6 Dhrupadbai Madavi of Sadagad village was killed in another Leopard attack.
A day after Tukaram and Malanbai’s killing, a Tiger attacked 55 year old Lalita Pendam of Pathari village and killed her on the spot.
On the very next day, 16 year old Nilima Kotrange was going to her farm with her mother Sindhu Kotrange near Chorgoan forest when a leopard attacked them.
Nilima was killed in the attack but her mother somehow managed to survive but was seriously injured.
On the morning April 17, Badu Katkar of Payali village woke up to see a tiger eating his elder daughter 12 year old Kirti near his farm house.
Badu says it was a tiger that killed his daughter but the forest department says it was a Leopard.
“I saw him from a distance of two feet. I could have killed it if I had any sharp weapon with me” said Badu Katkar.
One the very next day of Kirti’s killing, a Leopard killed 50 year old Gopika Kalsurpe of Kitali village.
“My mother was going to our farmhouse when some forest guards stopped her and told her not to go due to the fear of Loepard. She told them that she had seen many tigers and leopards in her life and went away. She was killed hardly fifty meters away from the forest guards” remembers Shankar Kalsurpe, Gopika’s elder son.
“After Gopika Kalasurpe’s killing, villagers captured Mr. Kalyan Kumar the Deputy Director, Buffer Zone of the Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve (TATR) who visited the spot to inspect the incident and beat him up. Villagers also set ablaze the nearby forest” recalls Nilesh Dahat, a journalist of a News channel who was present on the spot.
Even after eight killings in a row, the forest department was maintaining that, almost all the killings took place inside the forest and all the victims had gone inside the forest to collect Mahua flowers.
Calling the attacks as “accident” and “a result of casualness on the part of villagers”, the Deputy Director, Buffer Zone of the TATR Mr. Kalyan Kumar had said while speaking to The Hindu on April 13, “Not a single incident has taken place outside forest. All the villagers were killed inside forest when they went to collect Mahua flowers. We have issued guidelines to the villagers while venturing into the forest but it seems no guideline has been followed by the villagers resulting in these killings”.
“We have specifically told them not to go alone inside forest. They should move in groups with two or three people making continuous noise to keep away the carnivorous (tiger or leopard). Almost in all the cases, no tiger or leopard came out near the villages but the villagers went inside deep forests” Mr. Kumar had maintained.
But on May 8, a dead body of a woman was found in Lalpeth area of Chandrapur city. The forest department was left red faced and had to admit that the woman was killed by a Leopard. The woman’s identity cannot be ascertained until now.
The Leopard's spectacle continued and on May 10, it killed Raju Ankaltiwar, again in the vicinity of Chandrapur city.
On May 16, a Leopard killed Charandas Wakade, near Babanagar, hardly two kilometers away from the spot where Raju Ankaltiwar was killed.
The forest department’s inaction and continuous killings by Leopard and some by tigers has generated an extreme amount of anger among people of Chandrapur.
As a result of it, on April 16, in a shocking incident, a five month old leopard cub was set ablaze by a villager in Nifandra village in Saoli tehsil of the district. The Police, later on, arrested a farmer Pitambar Fulzele of Nifandra village for the killing.
But the Forest Department still called all these killings as “accident”.
Speaking to The Hindu, the Assistant Conservator of Forest, Buffer zone, Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve, Mr. Arun Tikhe said, “Out of 11 killings, three killings took place in the Buffer zone, two killings took place in Chandrapur division’s Saoli range, two incidents took place in Chandrapur range and rest of the killings took place in the FDCM area. The forest officers and the forest department are not responsible for these killings and every year 10 to 12 such incidents happen”.
Reacting to the manhandling incident of Mr. Kalyan Kumar, Mr.Tikhe said, “He was not beaten up but some villagers had encircled us and they were carrying some sticks. People should keep calm in such situations and should let the forest officials do their duty. We have captured four leopards after these killings”.
But fear looms large on the minds of villagers.
“No one goes alone outside village now. People move in groups and carry sticks with them. We are ready to leave the village if offered proper alternative” says Jivankala Boyer.
Some says leopards, some says tigers, but the animal is carrying out its dance of death in Chandrapur and the forest department continues to call it as “accidents”.