NEW DELHI • While investigating a rare series of deadly lion attacks, the authorities in an area of forested hills in the western Indian state of Gujarat took the unusual step of capturing and caging an entire pride of 17 lions, sending their dung to a forensic laboratory to be tested for traces of human remains.
When they came in, the results, mainly in the form of strands of human hair, pointed directly at one adult male, which was immediately handed a life sentence - in the zoo.
The evidence was not nearly so clear-cut in the case of two subordinate lions, which will be "given a fair trial and remain under close observation for some time", said Mr Anirudh Pratap Singh, chief conservator of forests in the Junagadh Wildlife Circle, near the area where the killings occurred. The rest of the lions will be released to the forest.
It is rare for lions to attack people, but in the first six months of this year, there have already been six killings in the area. In three of those cases, the lion ate only part of the person, which is even more unusual, said Mr Uday Vora, the state's forest conservator.
Wildlife officials say the lion population is 523, nearly double the park's capacity of 300, pushing hungry prides into adjacent villages and putting unsuspecting labourers in danger.
Among the victims was a woman named Valaiben Lakhnotra, who was pulling weeds near a sugar cane field on an evening in late May. Her son, Mr Pithabhai Lakhnotra, 41, said he called out to her that evening but received no response.
When he ventured into the field, he said, he found her slippers and a blood-soaked headscarf - and a lion crouched over his mother's body, with her back "totally ripped apart".
Mr Babubhai Gaadhe, the chief of Vadnagar village, said lion sightings are common in the area, as are the killings of cows, but that Mrs Lakhnotra's death marked the first time a lion had killed a human being.
NEW YORK TIMES