The incident occurred when Sanjana, accompanied by her mother and grandmother, went to attend nature's call. With her mother and grandmother standing guard, Sanjana climbed on the top of the water pipeline, and as she sat on top of it, the leopard pounced on her, caught her by the neck and dragged her towards the jungle. The two women watched helplessly as their child was being dragged away and soon they started screaming for help.
Hearing their screams, people of the slum which is located on the periphery of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park rushed to the spot. They also immediately called the police, who informed the forest officials. "After collecting details from Sanjana's mother, forest officials, police and locals set out in search of the girl into the jungle at around 12:15am on Monday," a local Pawan Sharma, who was involved in the search operations, said.
It was only at around 7:30am that they were able to find the head of the girl. "Due to heavy rain and darkness, no headway could be made. The child was found early in the morning," G T Chavan, deputy conservator of forests (Thane), said.
"The head was found completely damaged, while there was no trace of the body. It seems the leopard pounced on the girl because she was small and might have mistaken her for a prey," said V B Marathe, assistant commissioner of police.
Forest officials said this was the first incident of killing by a leopard reported since 2006. "There have been instances of leopard spotting in human habitations in and around the forest. Leopards often stray into human inhabited areas to look for easy prey and small animals, but no leopard has attacked humans for past many years," Chavan said, adding the slum is an encroachment on the periphery of the national park and people are accustomed to leopards straying into the area.
On Saturday, a leopard had entered the premises of Whistling Woods International and walked out only on Sunday afternoon. No loss of life or property was reported.
Sanjana was Thorat's third child and a class two student of a civic-run school. She was a popular child in the locality. "The incident happened barely 5 metres away from our hutment," Sanjana's father Dnyaneshwar told TOI, adding, "we have been staying here from our childhood and such an incident has never happened."
Sanjana's mother was inconsolable. "My daughter forced me to take her out. Initially, I had objected but later agreed and took my mother along. As Sanjana sat on the water pipeline, the leopard pounced on her and dragged her to towards the jungle," she said between tears.
The police have registered a case under the Criminal Procedure Act (unnatural death occurred due to wildlife killing).