On Sunday, six-year old Sanjana Thorat became the second victim of a leopard attack this year and the third such victim since December 2006 in suburban Mumbai.
Since April, this is the fifth incident where a leopard has strayed outside the boundary of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivli, into human settlements.
However, the attack coming so close to the death of five-year-old Sunny Soni in Aarey Colony, Goregaon, in May this year has got wildlife experts worried.
According to data collated by experts working on the 'Mumbaikars for SGNP and Leopards' campaign to reduce man-animal conflict, there has not been a single death reported due to leopard attacks from December 2007 to December 2011 in suburban Mumbai - the last being in December 2006.
However, there have been deaths in Vasai, Virar and other parts of Thane district.
"People have to understand that usually leopards are not man-eaters. They don't attack humans unprovoked. They hunt on the periphery of the national park for prey such as dogs that are easier to kill than chase a deer," said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist with Center for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, who is also working on the campaign.
"Leopards are extremely adaptive and can co-exist peacefully in urban areas."
The 'Mumbaikars for SGNP and Leopards' campaign was launched in September last year wherein 25 wildlife scientists, experts and forest authorities started working on ways to reduce the man-animal conflict.
"Reducing garbage around the periphery is essential to ensure that dogs are not attracted to the area. In the Mulund case, the leopard might have smelt a dog around the girl and attacked her thinking it's a dog since she was squatting," Athreya said.
Using infrared cameras, the project team has confirmed the presence of approximately 17 full-grown leopards in the 104-sqkm area inside SGNP.
Some wildlife experts believe that after a lull in the attacks for almost five years, the increased pressure of real estate and a new generation of full-grown leopards might also be the reason for the park's main predator to stray outside the boundary.
"Forest officials trapped more than 20 leopards when attacks were severe between early and mid-2000. It is quite possible that the leopards that were young back then are the ones who are straying outside the park," said Krishna Tiwari, founder, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Center.
"Also, during monsoons, the attacks increase as the dense vegetation makes it easy for them to hide."