Tiger terror is once again stalking villagers living on the forest fringes in Lalgarh ~ once a hotbed of Maoists. After a gap of nearly four months, villagers living in Bandhgora in Lalgarh got a bad scare on Saturday when they discovered that two calves that had been sent to graze in the forest, had been mauled by a wild animal they suspect to be a tiger.

Forest officials, however, do not think so, and say hurals or jackals might have been responsible. Hurals are Indian wolves; the species has become rare because of indiscriminate killing. A forest official said a hural, also called hurar, was killed by villagers in Salboni in July 2017 after it had strayed into the village and started killing goats.

This February, when villagers living in Lalgarh area had complained to forest officials about the presence of a tiger in the forest, the forest officials initially didn’t believe them and had even lodged an FIR against some villagers for spreading rumour.

Later, the forest officials put up cameras inside the forest and verified the presence of a Royal Bengal tiger.

Two of the seven cameras which the officials had put up caught the image of the tiger and what had been thought to be a rumour turned out to be true.

“The people in the villages of Melkheria and Madhupur in Lalgarh claimed that the animal that had taken away their cattle was a tiger, but we did not believe them. Yet, to be sure we put up seven cameras at different locations in Lalgarh. Two of these cameras caught the image of the tiger. It appears to be between 12 to 15 years,” Mr Rabindranath Saha, divisional forest officer (Midnapore division) had admitted afterwards.

Mr Saha had then said the villagers had been alerted soon after the presence of the tiger was verified and they were told not to venture into the forest. Patrolling in the area had also been increased.

This time, when asked, Mr Saha said, “The injury marks on the calves do not indicate they had been attacked by a tiger. They were probably attacked by hural or Indian wolf. But, as the villagers are terrorised, we have alerted our local employees and forest beneficiary committees to maintain a strong vigil inside the forest and have asked them to send reports about any development.”

Amidst the confusion, the arrival of a herd of wild elephants has heightened the panic of villagers living in Lalgarh and its surrounding forest areas. “You cannot imagine how we are spending our days. Even during the height of Maoist activity, we did not suffer this level of panic. We are forced to stay indoors for almost the entire day,” said Sakti Mahato, a farmer of Kumarbadh village, about eight km from Lalgarh. “We don’t know when the animals will appear. Even going out to respond to nature’s call has become risky,” said Laxmi Mahato of Amalaia.

According to forest officials, around 100 elephants have entered the forest from Dalma hills and they are now roaming inside Lalgarh forest.