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Maneater hunt in south, north
Ooty schools, tourist spot shut

Chennai, Jan. 9: Authorities in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district have shut down schools and closed off a popular tourist spot as “precaution” after three persons died in suspected tiger attacks over the last four days near Ooty.

The spot, Doddabetta park, is close to the three villages where the attacks occurred.

District officials said boarding schools in Ooty, 540km from here, are well away from the 25sqkm area where the attacks took place, but have been asked to ensure that students were indoors after 5pm or moved in groups after sundown.

Only day schools — both private and government-run — have been asked not to hold classes.

“After a woman worker, Muthulakshmi, 36, was killed by a tiger on Wednesday in a cauliflower estate at Kundasabai, which is on the outskirts of Ooty, we decided to close down 45 schools in six villages around the hill station as a precaution,” Nilgiris district collector P. Shankar said.

Shankar said the three villages where the attacks took place were in the vicinity of Doddabetta park, so tourist traffic had been halted too.

Doddabetta, at 8,650ft, is the highest peak in the Nilgiris and has an observatory from where tourists can view the valley through telescopes. It literally means “big mountain” and is a must-stop for tourists visiting Ooty. Thick forests flank the road to the peak and the three villages fall on the way, which is one reason for the precaution.

“We have deployed three teams of forest and police officials with tranquilliser darts,” Shankar said.

According to eyewitness reports, two of the attacks were by a leopard, while the third was by a tiger.

But a forest official said it could be the same animal, as people in their panic often confuse a leopard with a tiger, and pugmarks and teeth and claw marks on the bodies of the victims pointed to a tiger.

The Nilgiris district is home to the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary, which has more than 40 tigers. Authorities suspect the attacks could be by a tiger that had strayed into populated areas looking for food.

“Normally, such attacks happen in remote villages close to the tiger reserve. We have also placed cages with live baits,” said district forest officer Sugeetharaj Koilpillai.

He said trained elephants had been requisitioned from nearby camps to assist the search.

Apart from Muthulakshmi, two other persons, Kavitha, 33, of Salada village, and Chinnappan, 58, of Attapattu village, died in attacks since January 5 while returning home after dusk.

Both had been dragged into bushes and partially eaten before neighbours, who had gone looking for them, found the bodies.

N. Chandrasekar, secretary, Nilgiris Hotels and Restaurants’ Association, said the attacks wouldn’t hit tourist traffic as only Doddabetta had been closed.

“We continue to be fully booked for the Pongal holidays next week. Our more immediate concern is drinking water shortage in Ooty municipality,” Chandrasekar said.