Dark reports began circulating in December, after the mutilated body of a 65-year-old man was found in northern India. Since then, nine additional human deaths have been blamed on "Mysterious Queen," the name given to a large Bengal tigress with a taste for human flesh.
The exact identity of the tiger hasn't yet been established — wildlife officials aren't even sure if it's one tiger or two — but that hasn't stopped villagers in India's Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states from taking extra precautions when venturing outside their homes.
Wildlife attacks like these have been increasing in a few parts of the world, and some experts believe, for a number of reasons, that humans — unaccustomed to being prey — might start appearing on more predators' dinner menus in the future. [In Photos: The 10 Deadliest Animals]
The latest tiger-attack victim in India was Ram Charan, a 45-year-old irrigation contractor working near Jim Corbett National Park, a reserve established in 1936 to protect the region's iconic Bengal tigers and other wildlife.
Charan was walking through the forest near his truck when a tiger attacked him, according to news reports. "People rushed to his rescue on hearing his screams," a local wildlife official told the Times of India. "But he was dead by the time they reached him."
The tiger might have attacked a human out of desperation, one local official said. "The animal has started attacking humans, because it is not getting its natural prey," Rupek De, chief wildlife warden of Uttar Pradesh, told the Associated Press.
The human alternative
Indeed, when a carnivorous animal attacks a human, experts often point to a low population of the animal's usual prey. In a study detailed in 2013 in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions, researchers at the Berryman Institute of Utah State University examined attacks by leopards in and around India's Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary.
The researchers found that leopards had been forced to kill livestock in the study area. "The high depredation rate [of livestock] was the result of the low density of wild prey species in the wildlife sanctuary," the study authors concluded.
Chillingly, the researchers also noted that hungry leopards in India had found another source of meat: "In the absence of wild prey species, leopards tend to become man-eaters," the study authors wrote. "The entire hilly region of Uttarakhand state has been historically known as an area where man-eating leopards exist, and they may exist all across the hill districts of Uttarakhand."
People living in India have another reason to be concerned: Wildlife census reports revealed the number of leopards in the country had increased markedly, from 6,830 in 1993 to 9,850 in 2001.