For the last six weeks, those living in India’s northeast states have been looking over their shoulders whenever they venture outside: Since Dec. 29, a tigress has killed 10 people, eluding determined hunters at every step of its murderous spree.
The 440-pound cat’s latest victim was a 50-year-old man mauled to death Sunday while gathering firewood in Uttarakhand state, in the country’s northeast corner. “The animal ate parts of the man’s leg and abdomen before being scared away by shovel-wielding villagers,” reports the Associated Press.
The day before, hunters cornered the big cat, which has been given the name Mysterious Queen. But it was not enticed by a trap baited with a live cow.
In the six weeks since killing its first victim—a 21-year-old man who was to be married the following day—the tigress’ trail of death has stretched nearly 80 miles, with attacks coming at intervals of between two and 16 days.
Officials believe the predator wandered from its home in the Corbett Tiger Preserve, which was established in the 1930s to safeguard endangered Bengal tigers.
Tiger conservationists cannot say with certainty why Mysterious Queen is preying on humans, but one expert surmised it might be because it is simply hungry. “The animal has started attacking humans because it is not getting its natural prey,” said Rupek De, chief wildlife warden of Uttar Pradesh, the state where it mauled its first victim.
The most recent survey of India’s tigers, conducted in 2010, totaled 1,706, a sliver of the 45,000 that prowled the nation’s forested hillsides in the early 1900s.
Fueled by Asia’s black market, where tiger body parts are in high demand for use in traditional medicine, more than 40 tigers were poached last year in India, the most since 2005.
Mysterious Queen’s binge on human flesh is a sad counterpoint to the great news India’s tigers received earlier this month: A study published in the journal Biological Conservation revealed that 98 percent of people living in the Terai Arc Landscape—a 2,700-square-mile swath of mountainous terrain that includes the Corbett Tiger Preserve—would be willing to allow the government to pay for their families to be relocated to more urban areas.
This move would serve two ends. Fewer people would be in the proximity of tigers, likely decreasing the opportunities for more deadly encounters. And the tigers’ historical range, no longer touched by the heavy hand of human pastoral living (grazing livestock and the clear-cutting of forests for firewood), would be allowed to return to a habitat more friendly to tigers—and their nonhuman prey.
Unfortunately, this relocation program didn’t come soon enough to save Mysterious Queen’s 11 victims—the 10 dead humans and the tigress itself, which will surely be killed by its relentless hunters.