Tiger hunt after fourth victim killed in India--A search is on for a tiger who is believed to have killed four villagers in northern India over the past 12 days.

The beast attacked and killed a 40-year-old woman on Wednesday in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, its fourth victim since it is thought to have strayed from a tiger reserve, an official said.

State forest officials and police - with the help of two elephants - have been searching for the tiger in Moradabad district in the hope of driving it back to the Jim Corbett National Park , an area that is popular with tourists.

"We have identified four bodies that were killed by the tiger as they bore teeth and claw marks," a senior official from the district said.

"We have launched a thorough search and hope it will go back to its natural habitat."

The state government has also started "a process to declare the animal a man-eater as soon as possible" which means the protected tiger can be killed, the official said.

Frightened villagers have been protesting against the authorities' failure to capture the animal since the first death was reported at the end of last month.

Officials suspect the tiger has come from the Jim Corbett National Park - home to some 200 tigers - although the boundary is about 110km (68 miles) from Moradabad district.

India has around 1,700 tigers - half of the world's rapidly shrinking wild tiger population - but has been struggling to halt the big cat's decline in the face of poachers, international smuggling networks and loss of habitat.

The country's tiger population has plunged from the estimated 40,000 it had when it gained independence in 1947.