A three-to-four-year old female leopard identified as L98 was found grievously injured in a road accident on the Western Express Highway (WEH) near Kashi Mira, Bhayander at around 12.30 am on Sunday, and subsequently succumbed to injuries.
The leopard was one-month pregnant with three foetuses, said forest officials.
According to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) director and conservator of forest G Mallikarjuna, the injured leopard was rescued by an SGNP team and brought to the facility’s leopard rescue centre.
“However the leopard succumbed to its injuries during treatment at 2.15am. A post mortem was conducted by a team of veterinarians at SGNP on Sunday afternoon where the leopard was found to be pregnant with three foetuses,” said Mallikarjuna.
The post-mortem revealed that the cause of death was mostly probably due to the collision with a vehicle. “It was due to strong mechanical impact (probably vehicular origin) causing multiple hemorrhages, multiple fractures, and muscular damage resulting in hypovolemia (life threatening condition due to high blood loss) and respiratory arrest,” added Mallikarjuna.
Wildlife biologist from Wildlife Conservation Society Nikit Surve, who has been annually assessing leopard numbers in and around SGNP, said L98 was first photographed in October 2018 at Ghodbunder village after local residents had spotted the animal.
“Early last year, the leopard was spotted on the opposite side of the road near Kashi Mira, Bhayander, which showed that she had successfully crossed. Also, just about seven days ago, the leopard was spotted in one of our camera traps near Kashi Mira. However, it is extremely unfortunate that she met with the accident probably while crossing the road on Sunday because it is not easy for animals to understand oncoming traffic. It is even more disheartening that she was pregnant,” said Surve, adding that leopards do not stop hunting or movement till the moment they stop to give birth.
Dr. Shaliesh Pethe, senior veterinarian, SGNP said the gestation period for a leopard is three months. “This leopard was one-month pregnant. Externally (photographs) one can identify that a leopard is pregnant only within the last 15 days before she delivers,” he said.
SGNP and peripheral areas are home to at least 47 big cats that include the transient population moving between SGNP into surrounding landscapes, according to a 2019 estimation by Surve and SGNP. Data from SGNP, NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and Mumbaiikars for SGNP revealed that 19 leopards had been killed around SGNP, most of them on the Western Express Highway and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS) from 2008 to 2018.
“Unless we provide adequate mitigation structures (under or overpasses) on roads, railways and canals, we will lose most of our large mammals to linear infrastructure, very rapidly,” said Anish Andheria, president, Wildlife Conservation Trust.
An earlier assessment under the ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP’ initiative in 2013 revealed that 40 leopards died in road accidents along the periphery of SGNP from 1994 to 2012.
“Over the last two years, accident cases with animals have reduced as road widening work is underway on the WEH. Owing to less traffic during Diwali, vehicles were moving at a faster speed that led to this unfortunate incident. However, we have suggested several mitigation measures along this route, and we are trying to expedite their construction with project proponents as early as possible,” said Mallikarjuna.
Apart from the incident in Mumbai, another leopard was killed in a road accident on Saturday near Satara on the National Highway 4 that connects Pune and Bengaluru. The country recorded 83 leopard deaths in train and road accidents in 2019, the highest in a decade, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Of these, 73 were killed in road accidents and 10 were run over by trains. Also, there had been a 278% rise in such deaths due to road and rail accidents from 2010 to 2019.