Kerala lost its third tiger this year on Tuesday in a suspected case of hunting.

The three-year-old tiger cub that was found dead at Karappara A Estate in Nenmara forest division, Palakkad, is suspected to have been “hunted” down by a local resident. Forest officials have arrested Ayyappan, a resident of the workers’ colony of the estate, in connection with the killing. A case has been charged against him under Section 9 of the Wildlife Protection Act.

The earlier two instances of tiger deaths were reported from Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in March and May this year. These cases were still being investigated, according to Tigernet, a directory of tigers and other wildlife mortality, maintained by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The authority is a statutory body constituted under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Though the post-mortem on the putrefied carcass left not much clues on the cause of death of the animal, a close examination revealed that the pre-maxillary bone (the one close to the upper teeth) on its skull was broken. This find led to the suspicion that the animal might have been hit by a hard weapon, said a wildlife expert who participated in the post-mortem.

As the post-mortem progressed, one of the Forest officers remembered a submission made by Ayyappan before the Palakkad District Collector 10 days ago seeking compensation for being attacked by a tiger. On interrogation, Ayyappan admitted that he had hit the tiger with the handle of a machete as it attacked him.

The powerful batter might have proved fatal to the animal and it might have succumbed to the injury, said a forest official.

Ayyappan stated that he had hit the animal which pounced on him while he was moving through the area. The arrested was familiar with the terrain. The animal was found dead 20 metres away from his house. There were no reports of human-animal conflict including cattle killing by tigers from the region. Ayyappan had been booked earlier in a wildlife offence.

Scanning of the carcass with metal detectors for bullets and snare yielded no results. The skull was later sent for a detailed scientific analysis, officials said.

V.Gopinath, Chief Wildlife Warden, Kerala, said the officials were looking into the possibility of hunting and also Ayyappan attacking the animal in self-defence.