Wild animals have recently maimed and killed Malawians
Panic stricken Malawian villagers who fled their homes in fear of attacks by a mysterious wild beast have returned home under armed protection.
At least 4,000 people left four villages in the central Dowa district, some 100 km from the capital Lilongwe, last week when the wild animal, suspected to be a rabid hyena, killed at least three people and severely injured 16 others.
Police told the French news agency, AFP, that dozens of security officers have been deployed in villages to "safeguard peoples lives".
The rampaging beast roaming the mountainous region has still not been caught.
But police say some officers are assisting game keepers in the search of the suspected hyena.
Parks and Wildlife Officer Leonard Sefu had said his department was examining the maimed people to establish what the animal could be.
Dr Matius Joshua, the Dowa District Health Officer, had said that two elderly women and a three-year-old baby died when the beast crushed their skulls and ate their intestines and private parts.
Dr Joshua said the 16 victims admitted into hospital following the latest attacks sustained various appalling injuries with some of them completely maimed and disfigured.
He said some of them lost both legs and hands while two have lost both ears and eyes to the beast.
One woman lost her mouth and nose.
In August last year another mystery beast killed five people and maimed over 20 others before game rangers and para-military police managed to gun it down.
Parks and Wildlife officials identified the slain beast as a rabid hyena but residents disputed this, saying hyenas normally have shorter hind limbs.
Morgan Amoni, 30, who came close to the current beast, believes it is the same beast that was shot dead last year which has returned to exact revenge on the people.
He has been at Lilongwe Central Hospital looking after his father - one of the victims referred to the hospital.
In recent months, wild animals including lions have attacked people in villages or those living near game parks.