A carnivore that is believed to have killed two persons since Saturday in the Nilgiris has mauled another victim, this time a woman, on Wednesday.

Three deaths in five days have left the villages in and around Doddabetta in the grip of fear. Meanwhile, Doddabetta Peak, one of the most popular tourism spots in the Nilgiris, was for the first time made out of bounds to tourists and locals on Wednesday. Barricades were put up in the morning and tourists were turned away.

In the evening, 35-year-old Muthulakshmi was attacked and killed at Kundachappai village. Around 5 p.m., she was tending her broccoli field near a channel running below Kundahchappai, with her husband Ebbie Prakash. When her husband moved away to regulate water flow, the animal pounced on her from the nearby tea garden and dragged her away.

A villager, R. Dharman, claimed that some of the residents who witnessed the incident from a distance raised an alarm. After a while the woman was found dead. Thirty-three-year-old Kavitha and 58-year-old Chinnappan were the earlier victims.

It was not clear even after the incident on Wednesday evening whether the killer was a leopard or a tiger. But going by the pug marks at the spot where Chinnappan’s body was found it seemed like a tiger. Collector P. Shankar rushed to the spot. Forest Department sources said Doddabetta Peak was closed for tourist as it would be too risky to venture into this area. Entry of locals to even collect firewood was banned. Residents in that area have been asked to keep their children indoors and local government middle school remained shut.

Chief Wildlife Warden Lakshmi Narayan said a large number of forest personnel, including expert trackers and veterinarians, were deployed to trap the animal with the help of six cages.

Marksman deployed

When asked whether efforts were on to have the animal tranquilised or hunted down, Forest Department officials said no specific action had been thought of yet. Sources, however, said expert marksman Shafath Ali Khan reached the spot late in the evening.