In a rare display of exemplary courage and presence of mind, a Maharashtra Range Forest Officer (RFO) grappled a leopard with his bare hands and in the process managed to save himself, his colleagues and other villagers from the aggressive and hungry big cat.
The incident happened in a private cashew nut plantation near Nivli village, around 20 kms on the outskirts of Ratnagiri town, on Friday afternoon.
Around three dozen plantation workers were picking the ripe cashew nut fruit in the blistering heat, when a leopard unexpectedly jumped out of the bushes straight onto an elderly woman, attacking and injuring her on the face and arms.
As she screamed for help, the other workers rushed there and the leopard scampered away from there, while someone called up the RFO Priyanka Lagad.
As the danger had not receded, she reached the spot and called for reinforcement, and her colleagues — RFO Rajendra R. Patil and Forest Guard Akash Kadukar reached there in 45 minutes.
As they awaited a rescue team to trap and catch the leopard, the trio along with a local spotter decided to do a recce of the vicinity to try and spot the leopard.
In the uneasy evening calm that prevailed, around 4 p.m., Lagad and the spotter slowly walked ahead, with Patil and Kadukar barely a couple of feet behind them, all keeping their eyes open for the leopard believed to be hiding somewhere.
“There were lots of bushes, trees and small bunds, so difficult to spot the leopard, but we continued to tread cautiously,” Patil told IANS.
Suddenly, the leopard pounced from behind a bund straight onto Lagad, locked its jaws on her right thigh, throwing her to the ground and she screamed in agony.
“I was right behind her, and I tried to distract the leopard and chase it awaya It released Priyanka Madam but without warning lunged onto mea” said the 35-year old Patil.
Patil fell on his back with the leopard on all fours virtually pinning him down, as Kadukar and the spotter tried to chase him off.
Using sheer presence of mind, the trapped officer caught the leopard’s neck to avoid its deadly sharp canines and grappled with him as it dug its claws into his thighs, gashed him on the head and both arms, and tried to push him off.
Meanwhile, the petrified villagers also rushed there, creating a huge hue and cry and seeing itself surrounded and outnumbered, the leopard tried to retreat.
Minutes later, the forest department rescue team also reached the spot, managed to catch the leopard and trapped him in a cage to take it to the rescue centre.
However, owing to the shock and trauma of the mis-adventure with so many humans, the leopard died of heart attack soon afterwards.
“I have rescued many leopards in the past around 4-5 years, but this is the first time I was attacked and injured. Luckily, my husband, in-laws and other family members fully supported my work,” the 32-year old Lagad told IANS.
Patil, Lagad and Kadukar – who also sustained half a dozen claw injuries on his body – were treated at the Civil Hospital and discharged late on Friday and are convalescing at home.
Wildlife expert Rohan Bhate said that in view of such increasing incidents, the state government must provide protective gear against wildlife attacks to all forest personnel, that has been distributed in Nashik.
As per the autopsy report released on Saturday, the three-year old male leopard died of heart attack, apparently it was hungry and hunting for food.
After the story of their exploit spread in the region, the trio of forest officials have become a local legend, and how Patil managed to save himself, his colleagues and the villagers from potential casualties or fatalities.