A man-eating tiger is on the prowl in northern India.
The female big cat with a taste for human flesh has reportedly killed 10 people in villages spanning a 120-mile area in the last two months. She has believed to have strayed from a tiger sanctuary in nearby Jim Corbett National Park, the country's oldest national park, and is stalking humans. "Reports that a killer tiger was on the loose began circulating Dec. 29, when a 65-year-old man was mauled in Sambhal district of Uttar Pradesh state, across the border from Uttarakhand. Since then, thousands of terrified villagers have been told to watch out for the animal and to avoid the forests."
Hunters -- who apparently may plan to put her down rather than use a tranquilizer dart -- have been tracking the big cat for over a month. She last killed a villager who was out collecting firewood on February 9. Others have been attacked in broad daylight while they worked in fields or were overseeing grazing cattle. Sugarcane plants that grow to as high as 10 feet may be providing the tigress with a hiding place from trackers.
According to a wildlife official, "The animal has started attacking humans because it is not getting its natural prey. The tigress must be tired because it is not getting adequate rest."
Wildlife experts determined the animal is female "because of the shape of its paw prints, and many believe it is somehow injured, which could explain why it overcame its natural fear of humans. While most tigers flee at any sign of people, humans are also much easier prey: slower than deer, weaker than buffalo and with soft skin that is easy to bite through."
Some have speculated tigress is attacking humans not because she likes the taste so much but because "she probably has a problem with her mouth, perhaps an infected tooth, and has an easier time eating human flesh."The elusive female tiger, who hunters have dubbed the "Mysterious Queen," is believed to be four years old. Said a government official, "She moved through villages, towns and crossed no less than three national highways, four state highways and three railway crossings."
She recently avoided capture even when hunters used a live calf as bait in a trap.
Tigers have become an endangered species in India because of expanding town construction, poaching, and ineffective conservation programs, although the tiger population has grown in the past 10 years. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there may be as few as 1,400 tigers left in India, comprising about half of the world's tiger population.