'Man-eating' tiger shot dead in India

India tiger There are about 1,700 tigers in the wild in India

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Forest workers say they have shot dead a tiger blamed for killing three women in the past two weeks in southern India.

The tiger, described as a "man-eater" by authorities, killed the women in the Doddabetta Forest range near the town of Ooty in Tamil Nadu.

The district authorities had installed nearly 65 cameras in the villages and tea estates around the forest.

Nearly 45 schools were shut down and villagers were forced indoors.

"The Collector and the forest officials are deep inside the forest. But it has been confirmed that the tiger has been shot dead and not tranquilised," an official of the District Collector's office told BBC Radio Hindi's Imran Qureshi.

The tiger was also blamed for the death of several bison, including one just hours before it was itself killed.

There has been a spate of tiger attacks in India recently, with at least 17 people killed in little more than a month.

Forest guards and labourers quietly give way to a big cat inside Rajasthan's Ranthambhore national park. Forest guards and workers give way to a tiger inside India's Ranthambhore national park

A tigress in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is thought to have killed seven people, after straying from the Jim Corbett National Park.

And in December, forest officials caught a tiger that was believed to have killed three villagers in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

The jury is still out on whether a "man-eater" killed two people in Maharashtra's Tadoba region.

Another five people have been killed by a tiger in Karnataka.

The killings have created tension, with angry farmers vandalising a forest department office and threatening to take the law into their own hands.

There are about 1,700 tigers left in the wild in India.

It is estimated India had 100,000 tigers a century ago, but their numbers have declined sharply since then, due to poaching and rapidly shrinking habitats.

With increasing human encroachment into their reserves, tigers often compete for resources with nearby villagers, leading to conflict.

Most attacks on people are chance encounters gone wrong, and victims of such attacks are rarely dragged away as prey.

But a series of attacks on people in quick succession is a tell-tale sign of a man-eater at work.

A tiger in a zoo in Calcutta, India A tiger turning to human prey is said to be "a rare aberration"

A tiger usually makes one large kill every week. That's about 85,000 a year, across the whole of India.

Fewer than 85 humans are killed or injured by tigers every year in India - a fraction of the number killed by snakebites or rabies.

But people rarely discriminate between accidental and deliberate killings, and there has been criticism that local authorities resort too quickly to hunting down animals they have declared "man-eaters". The government is trying to clamp down on excessive use of those powers.

India's strong animal welfare lobby also insist "man-eaters" should be captured rather than shot, though not everyone agrees.

"Any confirmed 'man-eater' should be eliminated, though not a tiger that accidentally kills someone in self-defence. Zoos already have far too many tigers," says Dr George Schaller, a leading field biologist.

But everyone agrees that prompt action is crucial.

"Once confirmed, a 'man-eater' has to be dealt with promptly. Any delay is risky and this angers local people. This may undermine public support for conservation of tigers as a species," argues tiger biologist Dr Ullas Karanth.

Not surprisingly, most "man-eaters" in recent times have been reported from areas with high tiger populations, such as the Bandipur-Nagarahole, Tadoba, Corbett-Rajaji, Ranthambhore and Kaziranga regions.

 A camera-trap photo of the Bandipur man-eater in its prime The tiger in Bandipur which killed humans, which was captured after this picture was taken

Densely packed tiger forests - many call them the price of India's conservation success - often lead to young and old tigers wandering outside. Such wandering tigers are more likely to come into conflict with people.

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