Tigers have killed at least three children and four adults in north India in recent weeks, officials said today, forcing frightened villagers to stay indoors while forest rangers search for the wild cats.
Authorities wielding guns combed villages surrounding the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in the state of Uttar Pradesh, from which seven tigers are believed to have strayed. One of the tigers is believed to have killed at least four people in the last two weeks, including three children between the ages of eight and 15.
"An order has been issued either to tranquillise and cage the man-eater or, if it is not possible, to kill it," said P.P. Singh, a local forest official.
Villagers in the area are keeping their children home from school and have stopped tending their fields for fear of the tigers.
"Please help, a tiger has eaten up my nephew and the forest department is doing nothing to protect the villagers," said Lakhan Singh in Tanda village, 95 miles southeast of the state capital of Lucknow.
K.K. Singh, a senior forest official, said the conflicts were due to villagers encroaching upon the tigers' land.
Park authorities say there are roughly 100 tigers in the 300 square-mile reserve. The recent incidents are the first fatal attacks in the region in several years, officials said.
"It is a real struggle between the man and animal in which we have to save both of them," Singh said.
There are an estimated 1,500 tigers in India's reserves and jungles - down from about 3,600 just five years ago and about 100,000 a century ago, according to a 2007 government survey.