Over the course of seven weeks a man-eating tigress has terrorized many in northern India and claimed at least nine lives. The victims come from poor villages spread out across 120 miles in northern India. The villagers from the most recent attack site are used to wildlife, living near Corbett National Park, which was established in 1936 to protect the endangered Bengal tiger, but contact with tigers is extremely rare.
While contact has most certainly occurred, perhaps most chilling is that the man-eater remains unseen. She hunts in daylight and in silence, leaving little remains of her kill. The locals have begun to call the tigress the “Mysterious Queen.”
The first confirmed attack occurred on Dec. 29. The tigress killed a 21-year-old man in a sugarcane field the day before he was to be married.
Most of the kills attributed to the tigress have occurred in the sugarcane fields. Sugarcane is the backbone of the local economy and at 10 feet tall, allows perfect coverage for a predator stalking its prey. “People are afraid to go into the fields,” said Vijay Pal Singh, the neighbor of Shiv Kumar Singh, who was killed in January as he worked in a sugarcane field. “Everything has changed.”
Field laborers have begun working in groups, bringing along homemade guns or “hathauri,” which are a metal pipes loaded with gunpowder to create loud noises. Yet this strategy still has not deterred the tigress from striking.
Shiv Kumar Singh was working with a group of men at the edge of the sugarcane field when he was attacked and killed. Mahipal Singh, who was working in the group with Shiv, said that the laborers never heard a growl or a cry for help. The men only noticed that Shiv was missing when they stopped for lunch. 20 minutes later a group of villagers found the partially eaten corpse.
Hunter Samar Jeet Singh has been tracking the tigress for a month, most recently near her last kill, an elderly buffalo herder. All that was left of the victim was an arm and a leg, while the buffalo remained unharmed.
Officials in India regularly bring in hunters each year to kill tigers that have attacked humans, but it has been decades since a tiger has killed so many and been on the loose for so long. The man-eating tiger terrifying northern Indian villagers is an anomaly.
After the death of Devendra Singh Saini on Jan. 26, officials set up a metal cage near the site of the attack and filled the cage with meat next to a human effigy, hoping to catch the tigress if she returns to feed at the spot of Saini’s death. But hunter Samar Jeet Singh intends to shoot to kill. “The time for tranquilizing is over, the time for caging is over,” Samar said. “Now she must be killed.”
Other than her sex, which was determined by the shape of her paw print, little is known about the tigress. Some experts believe she is injured. Since tigers usually flee from human contact, an injury might explain why she has overcome her fear of people. The paw prints discovered near an attack on Jan. 8 suggest the tigress was putting less pressure on her right hind leg, meaning she could possibly be injured and targeted humans because they are easier prey to catch than a deer or buffalo. Other experts theorize she may have an infected tooth and finds human flesh easier to penetrate.
Making matters more difficult for the hunters tracking the elusive tigress, other tigers have reportedly entered the area, and since there is no photograph of the man-eating tigress, the northern India hunters can’t be sure if it is the right tiger, the “Mysterious Queen” that has been terrorizing residents, that they shoot.
By David Tulis