By Ashutosh Mishra
A leopard was killed after being hit by a running train near Bhimkhoj between Hatibari and Jujomura railway stations in Sambalpur district in the early hours today.
A forest official said the male leopard, whose age is yet to be ascertained, came in the way of the train while trying to cross the tracks around 2.45am.
"Our patrolling squad informed us about the incident. The left paw of the animal, whose exact age will be know after autopsy, has been severed in the accident," said divisional forest officer Santosh Joshi.
Sources said this was the first case of a leopard being killed on railway tracks, which had proved fatal for elephants several times in the past. In 2012, a speeding train had mowed down five elephants near Subalaya in Ganjam district, about 50km from Berhampur town.
The incident had forced wildlife authorities to reach an understanding with the Indian Railways to ensure that trains would reduce their speed while passing through the known elephant habitats. However, today's incident shows that it is not just elephants that are threatened.
Joshi said the forest department had started an inquiry to find out which train had hit the leopard. "The animal might have come from Rairakhol or Bamra forest division. We are yet to make any arrests," he said. People from nearby villages said the Puri-Durg Express that passes through the area around midnight had probably hit the leopard.
However, the news came as a surprise to them as they had never before heard of the existence of leopards in the areas. "No leopard has ever been active in this area. Such was the impact of the accident that the animal was thrown five metres away from the tracks," Upendra, who hails from a village near Bhimkhoj, said.
The incident has evoked sharp reactions from wildlife enthusiasts. "This is the downside of industrialisation that is taking a toll on our forests and forcing the wild animals to stray out in search of food. No wonder they meet such gory fate," said wildlife activist Sanjaya Dash.
Blaming the forest department for such mishaps, he said it would further hit the already declining population of big cats in the state. "Had the department been careful and tracked the movement of animals such as leopards, the accident might have been avoided," he said.
Though the state government has sought a re-examination of the tiger census results announced by the National Tiger Conservation Authority on January 20 alleging that the figures were released prematurely, the Centre has stuck to its guns.