updated 12/3/2007 9:07:01 PM ET 2007-12-04T02:07:01

A tiger that killed four people and mauled two others in the past six weeks was shot to death by police over the weekend, a forest official in western India said Monday.

Angry villagers had demanded that authorities kill the tiger, which had been straying away from the Tadoba-Andhari sanctuary in the western state of Maharashtra since mid-October.

"The problematic animal has been killed. This is the same tiger that killed four villagers," said B. Majumdar, chief conservator of forests. "The pug mark (footprint) of the tiger killed matches the impressions taken earlier while tracking the tiger."

Officials had said that they would try to trap, tranquilize or drive away the tiger, which had been spotted in rice fields bordering the thick jungles.

But on Friday, the tiger killed its fourth victim — a farm worker — dragging him into the forest and then fleeing when villagers shouted. The tiger later killed a buffalo in the same area near Mangrul village, 60 miles south of the city of Nagpur.

Forest officials and police sharpshooters with rifles kept vigil near the buffalo carcass and shot the tiger early Saturday when it reappeared, Majumdar said.

Right call to shoot?
Animal rights activists have questioned the decision to kill the tiger.

There are an estimated 44 tigers in the lush sanctuary often cited as a good example of tiger protection. Beyond the 241 square miles of reserve, the forest extends for another 497 miles and is densely populated with some 50,000 people who live in villages and work in surrounding rice fields.

Wildlife activist Debi Goenka says forest officials should have tried harder to push the tiger back into the sanctuary and villagers should have been cautioned to go to work in groups.

Goenka also said the protected sanctuary must be extended to include the surrounding forest area.

"This situation will happen again and again unless the government decides that tigers are important and expands the sanctuary area."

Was it the right tiger?
While forest officials initially said a female tiger was responsible for killing villagers, police on Saturday shot a male tiger.

Majumdar said officials were wrong about the tiger's gender at first.

"If it's a mistake, no one is going to admit it," said Goenka. "Unfortunately, the only way we will know is if there are no more kills over the next three months."

India's tiger population is fast dwindling with a majority killed either by poachers or angry villagers competing with tigers for land.

An official report last month confirmed a drastic drop in wild tigers confirming there are no more than 1,500 tigers in India's reserves and jungles — down from about 3,600 five years ago and an estimated 100,000 a century ago.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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