Thousands of villagers in northern India have been living in fear and torment after attacks by tigers from a nearby reserve claimed seven lives, officials and news reports said Sunday.
The man-eating tigers have terrorized 30 villages around the Pilibhit tiger reserve, the Times of India daily reported.
Farmers, who make up most of the rural population, go to their fields only during day hours in little bands, armed with weapons. Children are sent to school under escort or kept at home, and villagers rarely venture out after dark.
Senior administration official Ajay Kant Saini said forest guards last weekend captured a tiger that was said to have killed six villagers since November. It was later moved to a zoo. But there was a seventh killing on Thursday, spreading panic among villagers.
Divisional forest officer Kailash Prakash said they would not launch a second hunt, since the victim was found to have entered the reserve to collect fire wood; a tiger did not intrude into a human settlement.
Villagers however accused the administration of not ensuring their safety. “We usually harvest sugarcane at dawn and guard the fields at night from wild animals. Now, we only go in daylight, armed with sticks, and return by 5 p.m. No one is safe after dark,” a villager, Pyare Lal told the paper.
Although forest officials deny there is a second man-eating tiger on the prowl, teams led by experts are monitoring tiger activity and villages. Local officials, also admit that the park, officially declared a tiger reserve in 2014, was yet to be properly fenced.
India’s tiger population has grown to over 2,200 in recent years thanks to major conservation efforts, making the South Asian country home to the largest number of the tigers in the wild.