By James A. Foley
The man-eating tiger that is believed to have strayed from an animal reserve in northern India has killed two more people, according an Associated Press report, bringing the total number of deaths attributed to the tiger to seven.
The tiger's latest victim was a woman found in a forest Tuesday in Uttar Pradesh state, the AP reported, citing Rupak De, the region's chief wildlife warden.
Last week, De publicly declared the tiger a maneater, a political move that would allow the tiger to be killed without violating any laws protecting the endangered species.
An order to shoot and kill the female tiger was handed down last week by the Uttar Pradesh forest department, nearly two weeks after its first attack, which killed a person on Dec. 26.
But Tuesday the Indian Express reported that the kill order was rescinded after the high-profile politician and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi condemned the order to kill.
"Three shooters, who were called in to hunt down the tiger, who has been declared a maneater, have now been asked to suspend their operation," the Indian Express reported, adding that wildlife warden De confirmed Gandhi's intervention.
Gandhi said the animal is only attacking people because it is hungry and would spare humans once it returns to its natural habitat, the AP reported, citing a letter by the wildlife activist issued to the forest officials.
The priority will now to be tranquilize the tiger.
Critics had decried the kill order as an easy way out, as capturing the tiger would be more difficult than killing it.
It is believed that the tiger strayed from the Jim Corbett National Park, which is a popular tourist destination in neighboring Uttarakhand state. Prior to the kill-order, forest officials - aided by two elephants - tried to search for the tiger and drive it back into the park, according to an AFP report.
Jim Corbett National Park is home to about 200 tigers, and the wayward maneater is quite far from its home. The Moradabad district where all but one of the attacks have occurred is about 70 miles away from the park boundary.
There are an estimated 1,706 tigers in India, according to a 2011 census report by the Tiger Conservation Authority. That number has plummeted from the estimated population of nearly 40,000 when India gained independence from Britain in 1947.
In a separate incident in Maharashtra state in central India last week, two people were killed by a tiger in as many days in the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, according to the Times of India.
And in southern India, a wild tiger is thought to be responsible for the deaths of three people this month in the state of Tamil Nadu. In a move to prevent further attacks, the government there has closed 45 schools and a popular holiday resort, according to the AFP. Officials there said they hope to capture the tiger by the middle of this week.