NEW DELHI (AFP) - A wild tiger is believed to have killed four villagers in northern India in 12 days, prompting searches for the big cat and protests from villagers, an official said Thursday.
The beast attacked and killed a 40-year-old woman on Wednesday in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, its fourth victim since it is thought to have strayed from a tiger reserve, the official said.
State forest officials and police, aided by two elephants, have been searching for the tiger in Moradabad district in the hope of driving it back to the Jim Corbett National Park, popular with tourists.
"We have identified four bodies that were killed by the tiger as they bore teeth and claw marks," senior Moradabad administrative official O.P. Narain Singh told AFP.
"We have launched a thorough search and hope it will go back to its natural habitat." The state government has also "began a process to declare the animal a maneater as soon as possible" which means the protected tiger can be killed, Mr Singh said.
Frightened villagers have been protesting against the failure to capture the animal since the first death was reported on December 29.
Officials suspect it strayed from the Jim Corbett National Park - home to some 200 tigers - although the boundary is about 110 kilometres from Moradabad district.
India is home to some 1,700 tigers - half of the world's rapidly shrinking wild tiger population - but has been struggling to halt the big cat's decline in the face of poachers, international smuggling networks and loss of habitat.
The country has seen its tiger population plummet from an estimated 40,000 upon independence in 1947.