A leopard, who famously trekked unscathed from Pune to Borivli's Sanjay Gandhi National Park two years ago, died on Thursday night, ironically in a road accident while trying to cross National Highway 8 on the outskirts of Mumbai. The wildcat, Ajoba, whose miraculous 120-km journey was mapped with the help of a radio transmitter around his collar, until he mysteriously broke free from the tracking device in July 2009, was hit by a heavy vehicle at Chinchoti Phatak, near Vasai. Ajoba was still writhing in pain at 10:30 pm last night when he was discovered by Hitendra Mota, a Jogeshwari resident, who was returning from Palgarh. Mota noticed that traffic was moving slowly, and got off from his vehicle to see a group of people gathered around a wildcat, clicking pictures. "I saw the leopard was in agony. There was blood oozing from his mouth, but it was still alive. I thought I might be able to save him," he said. Mota, a wildlife enthusiast more used to rescuing stray dogs, loaded the leopard into to his car with the help of some of the people, and rushed to SGNP. By the time they reached, however, Ajoba had already passed away. Forest officers who examined the body noticed dark marks around his neck, which are generally found on animals that have been radio collared, and a microchip in his tail. "We contacted Wildlife biologist Vidya Atreya in Pune, who had radio collared Ajoba and tracked him. The chip number matched. The leopard we had been looking for for so long was right in front of us, lying dead," said Sunil Limaye, Chief Conservator of Forests. Dr Vinaya Jangale, a wildlife veterinarian for SGNP, said there were no major external injuries, "but his chest region had developed fractures and his brain was damaged". Ajoba had been rescued in April, 2009 from a well in Takli Dhokeshwar village, not too far from Pune. In the first week of May, when he was declared fully fit, he was fitted with the tracking device and released at Malshej Ghat, 80 km from where he had been found. Over the next 78 days, a GSM/GPS tracker gave a thrilling pug-by-pug account of wherever he was roaming: through the hilly Ratangarh area, the busy Mumbai-Agra Highway, the rail tracks near Kasara station, the Wada village near Dahanu, and the Vasai industrial area. On the fifth week of his journey, Ajoba reached the forests of Nagla Block in SGNP, leaving his pug marks all over the place until July 17, when his collar began to malfunction, and no more readings could be recorded. Wildlife biologist Atreya, who led this first-of-its-kind project in Maharashtra, said she named the wildcat Ajoba because he had seemed gentle and wise. "When he was rescued from the well at Alephata near Pune-Nashik Highway, the vet and I thought he was a very mild-mannered leopard despite weighing 63 kgs. Once he went off the radar, we always wondered where he might be. We were hoping he would appear in our camera traps put up for studying leopards in Mumbai. Then, late last night, forest officials called asking for his chip number. Sure enough, it was him."
APRIL, 2009: Full grown male leopard rescued from a well in a village near the Pune-Nashik Highway
MAY 1, 2009: Fitted with a radio collar and released at Malshej Ghats
MAY-JULY, 2009: Tracked crossing tracks, highways, and pockets of civilisation, swimming across the Vasai creek, and entering one of the main areas of SGNP
JULY 17, 2009: No reading from collar as tracking device malfunctioned
DECEMBER 1, 2011: Killed in an accident with a heavy vehicle on NH 8