Briton is eaten by shark while swimming off Réunion

A British tourist who went missing over the weekend off the coast of the Indian Ocean island of Réunion has been eaten by a shark, it emerged yesterday, after his severed hand was found inside one.

The man, 44, who is from Scotland but has not been named, was last seen swimming in the sea off the tropical island, 500 miles from Madagascar, a frequent scene of shark attacks.

“The tourist and his wife were spending a week on the island and he had gone out swimming in the Hermitage Lagoon, off Saint-Gilles, alone on Saturday,” a source from the island authorities said. “When he did not get back his wife sounded the alarm and a full search was launched. Divers searched around a coral reef in the area, and there were also patrols on land involving sniffer dogs. Sadly, the man could not be found.”

A tiger shark seen swimming near tourist beaches was killed this week because it was considered a threat to holidaymakers. A post-mortem examination found that its stomach contained a severed hand wearing the wedding ring of the British holidaymaker. “It is feared that the hand belonged to a tourist who was reported missing on Saturday afternoon by his wife,” the source said.

Tiger sharks have sharp, serrated teeth and powerful jaws that allow them to crack the shells of sea turtles, and are second only to great whites for attacks on humans. Initially there was speculation that the man had drowned before the shark had attacked his body.

DNA tests have yet to be carried out on the hand, but scientists from the CSR Shark Safety Centre on Réunion have been told that the wedding ring on the hand “conformed to one identified by the man’s wife,” the source told the Daily Mail.

The dead shark was more than three metres long and was one of five considered to be a threat to people in the sea.

Swimming and other water activities are heavily restricted on the island due to the high risk of attacks.

It is estimated that 43 shark bites have occurred on Réunion since the 1980s, 29 of which were sustained by surfers. The other victims were swimmers, windsurfers, fishermen and kayakers. In total, 27 died. In May a 28-year-old surfer had his leg ripped off by a shark. His body was later found floating in the port of Saint-Leu.

Shark attacks around the island have risen sharply since 2011. There were three attacks in six months in 2013, including two deaths. A girl aged 15 from France was swimming five metres from the shore in Saint-Paul when she was attacked. Her death caused a public outcry.

There are various explanations for the rise in attacks, with some experts saying that overfishing has caused hungry sharks to come closer to land for food. It has severely affected the island’s tourism industry, which has not returned to 2011 levels.

The authorities have also warned of the risk of bull shark attacks, which are known to have a taste for humans.

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