India's Latest Serial Killer Is a Leopard

India's Latest Serial Killer Is a Leopard
A leopard, similar to this one, is attacking villagers in Northern India

09/19/2014 AT 09:50 AM EDT

The killer responsible for 12 gruesome deaths in northern India isn't a human – it's a man-eating leopard. And villagers in the region, who now live in terror of traveling through the forest at night, believe the big cat is targeting drunk men, stumbling home from local bars.

"Villagers are terrorized by the wild animals and it's almost impossible to venture out after dark," Madan Paneru from Kotali village told the Telegraph. "Moving from one village to another or to markets through forested area becomes difficult. People carry sticks with them and remain alert all the time. Many in the village believe that drunk people are easy prey."

The leopard, according to the report, has killed 12 villagers since January 2012, including two women, and has injured four others. The 10 to 12-year-old animal is believed to have last attacked a human on Sept. 11. The victim survived but was severely injured.

Local wildlife officials, however, aren't completely convinced the animal is fixated solely on drunks, insisting that some of the victims were attacked after using outside toilets.

"Quite frankly, when people are drunk and weave their way back home to the village, they are easy prey," Belinda Wright, who heads up the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said in the Telegraph story. "I don't think the leopard is targeting drunk people, just people stumbling along the path at night. I'm sure you won't taste any better because you've consumed liquor."

Although protected by strict conservation laws, attacks by leopards and tigers have increased in recent years as their habitats shrink, forcing them to wander into populated areas in search of food.

In February of this year, armed trackers and sharp shooters riding atop elephants were dispatched into the forests of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to hunt a tiger that had killed eight villagers in a four-week period, eating five of them.

Weeks later in the same region, a leopard that strayed into a hospital and movie theater in Meerut injured two and prompted the authorities to urge the closure of the city's outdoor markets. It was last seen, according to the New Zealand Herald leaping off a building, forcing locals, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big cat, to run for their lives.

Sharpshooter Anil Adnan is the guy who local officials have turned to for help with their big cat problem. Earlier this year, Adnan spent more than three weeks roaming area forests and sugar cane fields, hoping to prevent the man-eating tiger in western Uttar Pradesh from claiming its ninth victim.

"A tiger never stops eating man once it has developed a taste for human flesh," he told The Australian. "Even if you shoot at her, she will still try and attack you.''

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