Known to hunters as T1, the tigress was shot dead in Maharashtra state after it claimed more than a dozen victims in a span of two years, sparking a controversy over the legality of its killing.

Dead body of the tigress known to hunters as T1 after being shot in the forests of India's Maharashtra state near Yavatmal.
Dead body of the tigress known to hunters as T1 after being shot in the forests of India's Maharashtra state near Yavatmal. (AFP)

A man-eating tigress that claimed more than a dozen victims in two years has been shot dead in India, sparking controversy over the legality of its killing.

One of India's most high-profile tiger hunts in decades ended on Friday night when the mother of two 10-month old cubs – known to hunters as T1 but Avni to wildlife lovers – was shot dead in the jungles of Maharashtra state.

A team of more than 150 people had spent months searching for T1, using a paraglider, Calvin Klein cologne to trap her, and dozens of infrared cameras while sharpshooters had ridden on the backs of elephants. 

Disputes arise

However, disputes quickly erupted after the killing as media reports said the tigress was shot in Yavatmal forest with no attempt to tranquilise her.

India's Supreme Court had issued a hunting order for T1 – blamed for 13 deaths since June 2016 – in September, ruling that she could be killed if tranquilisers failed. Several appeals were made against the death sentence.

The animal was killed at night, when tranquilisers are not allowed to be used, according to the Times of India and other media outlets.

T1 is said to have been shot dead by Ashgar Ali Khan, son of India's most famous hunter Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, who was meant to be leading the hunt but was not present on Friday night.

Forestry officials and the hunter did not answer calls to give details of the hunt.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests AK Mishra told The Indian Express newspaper that a forest staffer had managed to dart the tiger with a tranquiliser at around 11 pm (local time).

"But she charged at the team, forcing Ashgar to shoot in self-defence," he said. "The tigress lay dead in a single shot."

Tigers are celebrated in local Indian culture and considered sacred by many locals.
Tigers are celebrated in local Indian culture and considered sacred by many locals. (AP Archive)

Self-defence or 'murder'?

However, Mishra's account was contradicted by other reports, while many groups condemned the way the killing was conducted.

The Times of India quoted sources involved in the hunt as saying it looked as though a tranquiliser dart had been put into the animal's corpse after the killing. The sources said the dart had not been fired.

Forestry officials acknowledged to Indian media that no vet was present during the hunt, as required by the Supreme Court order.

Jerryl Banait, a vet and activist in Karnataka state who had launched appeals against the order, described the shooting as "cold-blooded murder".

"Avni was killed illegally satisfying a hunter's lust for blood," said the Indian branch of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) group.

TRT World had reported on the efforts to capture the animal and concerns of the animal rights activists. 

It said India's Wildlife Protection Act and National Tiger Conservation Authority rules had been flouted, calling for the matter to be "investigated and treated as a wildlife crime".

The tiger's body has been taken to a zoo in the city of Nagpur for a post-mortem.

Death of animal celebrated

Despite the disputed circumstances, villages around the town of Pandharkawda celebrated the death with relief.

T1 claimed her first victim, a woman whose body was found in a cotton field, in June 2016.

Since then most of the dead were male herders.

India has launched a major campaign to boost tiger numbers. At the last tiger census in 2014 the number had risen to more than 2,200 from a low of less than 1,500.

But urban spread as the population of 1.25 billion grows has increasingly eaten into the territory of wild animals.

Endangered elephants and tigers kill on average one person a day, according to government figures.

Source: AFP