Ajoba, the first leopard from Maharashtra to be fitted with a radio transmitter and a microchip to track his movements, died on Thursday night after being hit by a truck. Officials from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) said a speeding heavy vehicle hit the animal at Chinchoti, close to the Tunga-reshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
The post mortem report revealed that Ajoba sustained injuries on the chest, its right side and died on the spot. “The incident took place around 9pm and two people brought the leopard to the national park in their car at 11pm,” said Sunil Limaye, director, SGNP.
Named Ajoba (grandfather in Marathi) for his wise and gentle appearance, wildlife scientist Vidya Athreya said the spotted cat may have been around 11 or 12 years and weighed 72kg.
Athreya, who had radio tagged Ajoba, said the leopard was caught in Pune in 2009 after he fell in a well in Manchar taluka. The animal weighed 63kg then.
Before releasing him in Malshej Ghat, Ajoba was fitted with a radio collar, and a microchip was injected at the base of his tail as part of an international collaboration with the Norwegian government, aimed at understanding how animals live among humans outside protected areas.
The next three months – between May and July 2009 – saw Ajoba covering a distance of 120km to reach SGNP in 78 days on July 19 2009. This was the last time he was spotted.
“Ajoba was the first of the six leopards we collared and he did something that we couldn’t imagine because we know so little about animals,” said Athreya.
She said tracking the animal’s movement showed that he crossed several human habitats without harming anyone.
Though the radio collar usually falls off after 5,000 readings, researchers lost track of Ajoba after 633 readings. “We thought the radio collar might have fallen off. In fact, after we set up camera traps in SGNP in September, we were hoping we might find him,” said Athreya.
When the dead animal was brought to the national park on Thursday night, Limaye found marks of the radio collar and the microchip on the tail. This prompted him to contact Athreya.
“When the unique identity number of the microchip matched with the one that Athreya read out, we knew it was Ajoba,” said Limaye.