For seven years, Harish Ratna guarded the lions’ enclosure at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli. He opened and locked the gates before and after the popular lion safari every day.
But on Tuesday evening, the 40-year-old did not lock the gate after the last safari, a mistake that cost him his life.
Four-year-old lioness Shobha, who was brought to the park from Bangalore two months ago, dragged Ratna into one of the enclosures and mauled him to death.
“Going by the information I have been given by the field staff there, it was a freak accident,” said state Forest Secretary, B.P. Pande.
There were two lions in the enclosure into which the body was dragged.
It took five forest officials and 15 policemen from the Kasturba Marg police station in Borivli four hours to tranquilise
the lions and retrieve Ratna’s body.
“The body has been retrieved,” confirmed the park’s Director, P. Munde.
“We received a call that a lion had dragged a watchman of the national park inside [the enclosure]. Our team left immediately,” said Senior Police Inspector, Rajendra Thakur.
The national park, spread over more than 10,000 hectares, is home to 22 lions, which are part of the 12-hectare lion safari.
Forest officials said they will look into the incident.
“The park will be open on Wednesday and so will the lion safari. This was an accident and there is nothing to worry,” said Munde.
Ratna is survived by his wife and children, who live in one of the settlements at the national park.
The lion safari attracts more than 10,000 visitors every day. While the lions have two large enclosures, there is a huge park around with a pond and a rock face, where the lions are let loose during the day.
At 6 pm, after the last safari, the lions are sent back to their enclosures.
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is the largest natural, urban forest in the world. It is spread across Borivli and the Yeoor range in Thane.
It is also home to 24 leopards in the wild and more than a 1,000 species of plants.