LUCKNOW, India: A man-eating tiger on the prowl in northern India has claimed its ninth victim, defying hunters and wildlife officials who have been trying to gun down the animal, an official said Friday.
Since December 29, the same big cat is believed to have been on a killing spree in a densely forested area near Jim Corbett National Park in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Salil Shukla, an official in the district of Bijnor, told AFP that the partly eaten body of a young farmer had been found on Friday.
"The victim was missing since Thursday and had gone into the jungle to locate his cattle," he said. "This is the ninth victim of the man-eater."
While tiger-hunting has long been illegal in India, the Uttar Pradesh state government has licensed six hunters to either capture or kill the tigress who has terrorised local villagers.
India is home to half the world's dwindling tiger population which now stands at around 3,000. A loss of their natural habitat has brought man and beast into closer proximity across the subcontinent.
Even conservationists say that once a tiger has tasted human flesh more than once it is almost impossible to rehabilitate it and that killing the animal is the only responsible option.
Although the latest spate of attacks is serious by recent standards, conservationist Belinda Wright from the Wildlife Protection Society of India said that the tigress was nothing compared to some of the legends of the past.
Jim Corbett, a colonial-era hunter-turned-conservationist after whom the Jim Corbett National Park is named, tells in his best-selling book the "Man-eaters of Kumaon" of tigers and leopards that killed hundreds.
"They do get a taste for humans," Wright explained. "But I think (attacks happen) more because we're very easy prey. As a tiger gets older, or is disabled in some way, we're just very, very easy as we bumble around on our two legs."
She said that conflicts between tigers and local people who live in densely populated settlements around wildlife sanctuaries "is only going to get worse."
In late January, forest officials in southern India shot dead a tiger suspected of killing three people, ending a three-week reign of terror which forced dozens of schools to close.
Live goat bait
Some 200 tigers live in Jim Corbett park but locals say this is the first time they can remember one of them attacking villagers.
The hunters have employed a variety of tricks to lure their prey, including traps and even a live goat as bait. Forest officials armed with tranquilliser guns have ridden on elephants to follow its trail through the forest.
AFP visited the area at the weekend and found villagers desperate for an end to the traumatic series of killings.
Hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan had warned that the tigress was hungry and would strike again soon.
Anand Saini, whose brother Devendra was the tiger's victim on January 26, said everyone was living in fear.
"It is for the first time ever that we have become conscious of the fact we have so many tigers close to us in the forest," he told AFP from his home in Bijnor district.
"The children in the village are now being asked not to venture too far out, particularly early in the morning or after sunset.
"Even the farmers who used to sleep in the fields to prevent animals like deer from destroying their crops are staying home at night."
Devendra was dragged to his death while erecting a fence around his farm. His stomach and parts of his thigh were missing while there was a cluster of paw marks around his body. -AFP