Police officers and Sanjay Gandhi National park officials said it was the enclosure guard’s carelessness that lead to his death after a lioness attacked him on Tuesday.
Rajendra Thakur, senior police inspector at Kasturba Marg police station, said the gatekeeper, Harishchandra Gembal (40), was one of the two guards on duty when the last safari vehicle was dropping off visitors outside the gate.
Thakur said there are two gates leading to the lion enclosure. As per procedure, when a guard sees a vehicle approaching, he opens the first gate and keeps the second locked. After the vehicle crosses the first gate, the gate is locked and the second one is opened.
“On Tuesday evening, Gembal opened the first gate without noticing that the second gate leading to the safari was open. The lions were right behind the bus as it was exiting. Seeing both gates open, Shobha, the lioness, pounced on Gembal and dragged him inside the enclosure,” said Thakur.
The four-year-old lioness had been brought to the national park from Bangalore only four months ago.
This is the second incident in a month of an animal in a city zoo or national park killing a human. On March 29, a 30-year-old drug addict walked into the elephant enclosure at Byculla zoo and was killed by a 56-year-old female elephant, Laxmi. The addict was trying to make away with the large metal bolt used to lock the enclosure.
He managed to get into the enclosure from a public lawn inside the zoo, climbing the wall in between. On sighting him, Laxmi lifted him with her trunk and flung him against a wall. Security has now been increased around the enclosure and across the zoo.
P.N. Munde, director of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, also said Tuesday’s incident occurred due to Gembal’s carelessness. “The watchman strayed into the enclosure after safari hours, but kept the gate open,” he said.
The national park, spread over more than 10,000 hectares, is home to 22 lions, which are part of the 12-hectare lion safari, which attracts more than 10,000 visitors every day.
The authorities have ordered an independent inquiry and to ascertain whether Gembal was drunk at the time of the incident. “Apart from the police probe, an officer has been appointed to look into the incident. He will submit a report to me within two days,” said Munde.
When asked what precautions would be taken to prevent a repeat of the incident, Munde said: “We would take all the precautions listed in the Central Instruction Manual for Zoos. The safari has been closed for the day but would reopen from Thursday.