- Elephant part of a group hunting a man-eating tigress in Maharashtra
- The tigress was reported to have killed five villagers last year
- Thousands have signed petition calling for her to be captured alive
An elephant that was part of a group hunting a man-eating tigress in Maharashtra ran astray overnight and trampled a woman to death, an official said today.
The pachyderm was one of five elephants engaged in a search operation for a tigress that is suspected to have killed up to 13 people in Maharashtra.
"The elephant left the base camp and travelled a distance of 20 kilometres in the night and killed a woman," forestry official AK Mishra told AFP.
The elephant was later captured and all five animals were relieved of their duties, Mr Mishra added.
The Indian Express newspaper said the victim was 35 years old.
The hunt for the tigress, who is being called Avni, which means earth in Hindi, began after she was reported to have killed five villagers in the past year, Mr Mishra said.
Officials suspect she may also have been responsible for another eight deaths stretching back to 2016, he added.
"Operations to hunt down the tiger and capture her cubs are on as per the Supreme Court directives," Mr Mishra said.
The elephants were originally used by armed forest rangers who sat atop the animals as they entered thick forests inaccessible by vehicles.
Last month the Supreme Court dismissed appeals by activists that it intervene to stop the rangers from shooting dead Avni.
More than 9,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for the tigress to be captured alive rather than killed.
Tigers do not generally attack humans, but some experts believe they can get a taste for human flesh once they have attacked once.
India is home to more than half of the world's tiger population with some 2,226 of the animals roaming its reserves, according to the last count in 2014.
Dozens die every year, sometimes at the hands of poachers, while reports of man-animal conflict are not uncommon. Wildlife activists say they occur when humans encroach into tiger corridors.
In October 2016 armed forest guards shot dead a man-eating tiger in northern India.
It was blamed for killing three villagers, including a woman outside the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand.
Villagers celebrated by parading with the dead animal's carcass for nearly three hours.
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