An appeal to prevent forest rangers from executing a tiger believed to have killed as many as 13 people has been rejected by India’s supreme court.
The court has said it would not step in if any attempts to sedate and relocate the animal were unsuccessful.
The spate of deaths over the last two years has caused panic in Pandharkawada, a town in central India, where bodies have reportedly been found missing limbs and covered in large scratch marks.
Officials say the female tiger has killed at least five people, while local reports put the number as high as 13.
But activists have questioned whether the tigress was behind all of the deaths as it is very rare for a single tiger to have attacked so many people.
Forest officials have said they would first try to tranquilise and capture the tigress, known as T1.
Last week the New York Times reported rangers were gearing up for a “military-style operation” to deploy rangers with tranquiliser guns on the backs of half a dozen elephants to surround the tiger, capture her and move her to a zoo.
“If this is unsuccessful, the animal will have to be shot in order to avoid further loss of human life,” forest official Pradip Rahurkar Rahurkar told the BBC Marathi service.
Local politicians are under pressure to have the tiger shot dead, particularly after three people were reportedly killed in August.
“I don’t want to kill this beautiful animal,” KM Abharna, a top forestry official in the Pandharkawada area, told the New York Times. “But there’s a hell of a lot of political pressure and a hell of a lot of public pressure.”
Officials said they will also try to tranquilise and relocate the tigress’s two cubs along with a male tiger called T2, which has also been spotted in the area but has not been blamed for any deaths.
India’s efforts to conserve its tigers have seen an increase in numbers of the animals – up from 1,411 in 2006 to an estimated 2,500 today, meaning India is now home to 60 per cent of the world’s tigers.
However, the country’s booming population and mushrooming towns and cities have seen forests shrink to become isolated islands, and when tigers attempt to move between them, they are increasingly coming into conflict with humans.
In addition, a crackdown on the beef industry by the Hindu government has left large numbers of abandoned cattle in some areas, meaning tigers often move out of forested reserves to attack the animals.
Officials have tried to capture T1 on four previous attempts, but each time she has escaped.