Hunters are tracking a man-eating tigress which has killed at least nine people during a 150-mile rampage from a national park in northern India to villages in the Himalayan foothills.
According to forestry officials, the adult tigress may have killed and eaten a tenth victim on Sunday, a 50-year-old farmer who was mauled as he collected firewood in Kalgarh village along the border of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand hill state.
The big cat was chased away by villagers who discovered her eating her victim. She had eaten parts of his legs and abdomen when she was chased away by spade wielding locals.
Forestry officials and tiger experts now fear the tigress will not stop killing humans until she is “removed” – either captured or killed.
The tigress strayed from Corbett National Park to begin her six-week killing spree on December 29th, when she pounced on a 21-year-old man who had wandered into sugar cane fields in Moradabad district to do his morning ablutions. She claimed its second victim a week later on January 5th and two days later a third, a teenage girl.
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Until then, the tigress had not eaten its victims. But over the following days it killed another two villagers, in both cases consuming body partsand apparently developing a taste for human flesh. It then disappeared back into the national park, but emerged 16 days later to kill again.
Officials said the tiger had crossed several major national highways, a river and moved through villages on the prowl for human prey.
Belinda Wright, one of India’s leading tiger conservationists, said officials had told her the first nine victims had been confirmed as those of a single, breeding tigress which may be wounded or injured: the pawprints are identical but uneven which suggests she may have a limp.
Officials said it was possible the tenth victim may have been killed by a different tiger.
Ms Wright said this latest man-eater’s nine or ten victims made it one of the most prolific in recent years, although some of those pursued by Jim Corbett, the legendary tiger hunter turned conservationist for whom the national park is named, were said to have killed and eaten more than 400 people.
She blamed the worsening “human-animal conflict” in India for the latest killings and said the spread of mobile phones has been a factor. After one of the killings a crowd of thousands of local people arrived to track down the tigress and disturbed its retreat back into the forest. “Initially we had a man-killer, maybe that can be put down to these crowds. And then she started eating people and unfortunately when that happens there is no alternative but to remove it, it can no longer be a wild tiger,” she said.
Both she and local forestry officials hope the tigress can be captured rather than killed. “There are so few breeding tigresses that every one is precious. They can survive with the loss of a few young or male tigers, but not feeding females, it’s a tragedy,” she added.
Kamlesh Kumar, Conservator of Forest in Moradabad , Uttar Pradesh, said he believed the tigress is four years old. “It has strayed from Jim Corbett Park and travelled 120 kilometres to rural Moradabad. We are trying to understand why it went unnoticed all the way, as the sighting happened only after it killed while returning to Jim Corbett [National Park]. We have been following it since then. Our understanding is that the animal has panicked and attacked humans,” he said.