After it was chased by hundreds of angry villagers and finally saved by Indian wildlife workers, a royal Bengal tiger swam to freedom Tuesday.
The rare tiger was spotted after it wandered into a village about 150 miles south of Calcutta Sunday evening, but forest guards scared the tiger away with fire.
It emerged again the next day, and this time the frightened villagers ran after it, chasing the tiger up a date palm tree, which triggered a 14-hour standoff.
Harassing the rare tigers is illegal in India, but the villagers defended their actions, claiming the tiger had injured at least one villager.
As their habitat shrinks, reports of tigers attacking people and entering populated areas have increased in recent years.
At one point, as many as 1,000 people chased the pregnant tiger through fields and villages, some hitting it with stones. Wildlife workers tranquilized the tiger as it sat in a tree, and they brought the royal Bengal down, where the groggy cat briefly attacked one of the hundreds of villagers surrounding the tree.
The tiger was treated for a few minor injuries and was then returned by boat to the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, where when its cage was opened; the tiger leaped into the water to swim away.
Royal Bengal tigers are unusual in that they can endure comfortably on both land and in water, because their natural habitat combines the two. This tiger had wandered away from the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, located in the large delta region formed by the Sunderbans river. It is home to an estimated 300 cats, making it the largest colony of wild tigers in the world.
"These tigers eat a lot of fish. They are a very different type of cat," said Vivek Menon, executive director of Wildlife Trust of India.
India is thought to be home to 40 percent of the world tiger population. Less than 3,000 tigers remain in the wild in India, according to the Wildlife Trust of India, but a new report released recently, which local officials dispute, said the number of tigers in India has dropped to 1,411.