Tiger attacks are an extreme form of human–wildlife conflict which occur for various reasons and have claimed more human lives than attacks by any of the other big cats. The most comprehensive study of deaths due to tiger attacks estimates that at least 373,000 people died due to tiger attacks between 1800 and 2009, the majority of these attacks occurring in South and Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia, attacks gradually declined after peaking in the nineteenth century, but attacks in South Asia have remained high, particularly in the Sundarbans.
Reasons for attacking
If a human comes too close and surprises a sleeping or a feeding tiger (particularly if it is a tigress with cubs), the tiger will attack and kill a human. Tigers also attack humans in a case of "mistaken identity" (for example, if a human is crouching while collecting firewood, or cutting grass) and sometimes when a tourist gets too close. Some also recommend not riding a bicycle, or running in a region where tigers live, in order to not provoke their chase. Peter Byrne about an Indian postman who was working on foot for many years without any problems with resident tigers, but was chased by a tiger soon after he started riding a bicycle for his work. While on average there are approximately 85 or fewer people killed and injured by tigers each year, India has seen sharper increases in tiger attacks, as was the case in 2014 and 2015 due to urban expansion into the tiger’s natural habitat and the outlawing of tiger killing. Many human killings and injuries are due to incidents at zoos, or to the man-eating tigers in India.
In some cases, tigers will change their natural diet to become man-eaters. This is usually due to a tiger being incapacitated by a gunshot wound or porcupine quills, or some other factors, such as health issues and disabilities. In such cases, the animal's inability to take traditional prey forces it to stalk humans, which are less appetizing but much easier to chase, overpower and kill; this was the case with the man-eating tigress of Champawat, which was believed to have begun eating villagers at least partially in response to crippling tooth injuries. As tigers in Asia often live in close proximity to humans, tigers have killed more people than any other big cat. Between 1876 and 1912, tigers killed 33,247 people in British India.
Man-eaters have been a recurrent problem in India, especially in Kumaon, Garhwal and the Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal. There, some healthy tigers have been known to hunt humans. Even though tigers usually avoid elephants, they have been known to jump on an elephant's back and severely injure the mahout riding on the elephant's back. Kesri Singh mentioned a case when a fatally wounded tiger attacked and killed the hunter who wounded it while the hunter was on the back of an elephant. Most man-eating tigers are eventually captured, shot or poisoned.
During war, tigers may acquire a taste for human flesh from the consumption of corpses which have lain unburied, and go on to attack soldiers; this happened during the Vietnam and Second World Wars. Tigers will stalk groups of people bending down while working in a field or cutting grass, but will lose interest as soon as the people stand upright. Consequently, it has been hypothesized that some attacks are a simple case of mistaken identity.
Tigers typically surprise victims from the side or from behind: either approaching upwind or lying in wait downwind. Tigers rarely press an attack if they are seen before their ambush is mounted.
Kenneth Anderson once commented on man-eating tigers;
"It is extraordinary how very cautious every man-eater becomes by practice, whether a tiger or panther and cowardly too. Invariably, it will only attack a solitary person, and that too, after prolonged and painstaking stalking, having assured itself that no other human being is in the immediate vicinity... These animals seem also to possess an astute sixth sense and be able to differentiate between an unarmed human being and an armed man deliberately pursuing them, for in most cases, only when cornered will they venture to attack the latter, while they go out of their way to stalk and attack the unarmed man.
Tigers are sometimes intimidated from attacking humans, especially if they are unfamiliar with people. Tigers, even established man-eating tigers will seldom enter human settlements, usually sticking to village outskirts. Nevertheless, attacks in human villages do occur.
Most tigers will only attack a human if they cannot physically satisfy their needs otherwise. Tigers are typically wary of humans and usually show no preference for human meat. Although humans are relatively easy prey, they are not a desired source of food. Thus, most man-eating tigers are old, infirm, or have missing teeth, and choose human victims out of desperation. In one case, a post-mortem examination of a killed tigress revealed two broken canine teeth, four missing incisors and a loose upper molar, handicaps which would make capturing stronger prey extremely difficult. Only upon reaching this stage did she attack a workman.
In some cases, rather than being predatory, tiger attacks on humans seem to be territorial in nature. In at least one case, a tigress with cubs killed eight people entering her territory without consuming them at all.
Tiger attacks in the Sundarbans
The Bengal tigers of the Sundarbans (translation: 'beautiful forest'), bordering India and Bangladesh, used to regularly kill fifty or sixty people a year. This was strange given that the tigers were usually in prime condition and had adequate prey available. Approximately 100 tigers live in this region, possibly the largest single population anywhere in the world. The kill rate has dropped significantly due to better management techniques and now only about three people lose their lives each year. Despite the notoriety associated with this area, humans are only a supplement to the tigers' diet; they do not provide a primary food source.
Tigers and locations known for attacks
The Champawat Tiger
The Champawat Tiger was a man-eating tigress which purportedly killed some 200 men and women before being driven out of Nepal. She moved to Champawat district in the state of Uttarakhand in North India, and continued to kill, bringing her total human kills up to 436. She was finally tracked down and killed in 1907. She was known to enter villages, even during daylight, roaring and causing people to flee in panic to their huts.
The Champawat Tiger was found and killed by Jim Corbett after he followed the trail of blood the tigress left behind after killing her last victim, a 16-year-old girl. Later examination of the tigress showed the upper and lower canine teeth on the right side of her mouth were broken, the upper one in half, the lower one right down to the bone. This permanent injury, Corbett claimed, "had prevented her from killing her natural prey, and had been the cause of her becoming a man-eater."
The Tiger of Segur
The Tiger of Segur was a young man-eating male Bengal tiger who killed fifty five people in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu state in South India. Though originating in the District of Malabar District and Wayanad District below the south-western face of the Blue Mountains, the tiger later shifted its hunting grounds to Gudalur and between the Sigur Plateau and Anaikatty in Coimbatore district. It was killed by Kenneth Anderson on the banks of the Segur River, circa 1954. Anderson later wrote that the tiger had a disability preventing it from hunting its natural prey.
Tigers of Chowgarh
The Tigers of Chowgarh were a pair of man-eating Bengal tigers, consisting of an old tigress and her sub-adult cub, which for over a five-year period killed a reported 64 people in eastern Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand in Northern India over an area spanning 1,500 square miles (3,900 km2). The figures however are uncertain, as the natives of the areas the tigers frequented claimed double that number, and they do not take into account victims who survived direct attacks but died subsequently. Both tigers were killed by Jim Corbett.
The Thak man-eater was a tigress from Eastern Kumaon division, who killed only four human victims, but was the last hunt of the hunter, conservationist and author Jim Corbett. Corbett called her up and killed her during late twilight, after he lost all other means to track her down. Postmortem revealed that this tigress had two old gunshot wounds, one of which had become septic. This, according to Corbett, forced her to turn from a normal predator hunting natural prey to a man-eater.
Tiger of Mundachipallam
The Tiger of Mundachipallam was a male Bengal tiger, which in the 1950s killed seven people in the vicinity of the village of Pennagram, four miles (6 km) from the Hogenakkal Falls in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. Unlike the Segur man-eater, the Mundachipallam tiger had no known infirmities preventing it from hunting its natural prey. Its first three victims were killed in unprovoked attacks, while the subsequent victims were devoured. The Mundachipallam tiger was later killed by Kenneth Anderson.
Man-eater of Bhimashankar
A story was discovered by Pune-based author Sureshchandra Warghade when he ran into an old villager in the Bhimashankar forest which lies near Pune. The villager explained to the author how a man-eating tiger terrorized the entire Bhimashakar area during a span of two years in the 1940s. He was a police constable in that area and he had been responsible for dealing with the formalities surrounding the deaths (missing person reports and death certificates) and other jobs such as helping the hunting parties. During this time the tiger supposedly killed more than 100 people, but it was apparently very careful to avoid discovery; only 2 bodies were ever found. Several hunting parties were organized, but the only one to succeed was an Ambegaon-based hunter named Ismail. During his first attempt, Ismail had a direct confrontation with the tiger and was almost killed. He later called Kenneth Anderson. They returned and eliminated the man-eater. The tiger predominately killed the villagers who slept outside the huts.
The authenticity of the story told by the villager was confirmed when Warghade examined official reports, including a certificate given by the British authorities for killing the man-eating tiger.
Tara of the Dudhwa National Park
While the Sundarbans are particularly well known for tiger attacks, Dudhwa National Park also had several man-eaters in the late 1970s. The first death was on 2 March 1978, closely followed by 3 further kills.
The population demanded action from authorities. The locals wanted the man-eater shot or poisoned. The killings continued, each one making headlines. Officials soon started to believe that the likely culprit was a tigress called Tara. Conservationist Billy Arjan Singh had taken the British-born cat from Twycross Zoo and raised her in India, with the goal of releasing her back into the wild. His experiments had also been carried out on leopards with some success.
Experts felt that Tara would not have the required skills and correct hunting techniques to survive in the wild and controversy surrounded the project. She also associated men with providing food and comfort, which increased the likelihood that she would approach villages.
Officials later became convinced that Tara had taken to easier prey and become a man-eater. A total of 24 people were killed before the tigress was shot. Singh also joined the hunt with the intent of identifying the man-eater, but firm confirmation of the identity of the tiger was never found.
The debate over the tiger's identity has continued in the years since the attacks. Singh's supporters continue to claim that the tiger was not Tara, and the conservationist has produced evidence to that effect. However, officials maintain that the tiger was definitely Tara.
Other man-eaters from Dudhwa National Park have existed, but this tiger was potentially the first captive-bred tiger to be trained and released into the wild. This controversy cast doubt on the success of Singh's rewilding project.
Problems at Dudhwa have been minor in the past few years. Occasional tiger attacks still occur, but these are no higher than at other wildlife reserves. On average, two villagers are attacked at Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve each year. These attacks generally occur during the monsoon season when the locals enter the reserve to collect grass.
Tigress of Moradabad
In February 2014, reports emerged that a tigress had killed 7 people near the Jim Corbett National Park. The tigress was later called the man-eater of Moradabad, because it was hunting in the Bijnor and Moradabad region. The tigress could not be traced by about 50 camera traps and an unmanned aerial vehicle. In August 2014, it was reported that tigress had stopped killing humans. Its last victim was killed in February, with a total of 7 victims. The animal remained untraced.
Tigress of Yavatmal
Between 2016 and 2018, a tigress known as T-1 was said to have killed 13 people in Yavatmal district, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. The tigress was shot dead after a major hunt in November 2018. The tiger was killed in self-defence, after charging those attempting to tranquilise her.
The hunt for the tigress included more than 100 camera traps, bait in the form of horses and goats tied to trees, round-the-clock surveillance from treetop platforms and armed patrols. Drones and a hang glider were also used to try and locate T-1. Wildlife officials also brought in bottles of the perfume Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein, which contains a pheromone called civetone, after an experiment in the US suggested that it could be used to attract jaguars.
Measures to prevent tiger attacks
Various measures were taken to prevent and reduce the number of tiger attacks with limited success. For example, since tigers almost always attack from the rear, masks with human faces were worn on the back of the head by the villagers in 1986 in the Sundarbans, on the theory that tigers usually do not attack if seen by their prey. This had temporarily decreased the number of attacks, but only for a short while before the tigers figured out it was not the front of the human being so the villagers no longer wore them for protection. All other means to prevent tiger attacks, such as providing the tigers with more prey by releasing captive bred pigs to the reserve's buffer zones, or placing electrified human dummies to teach tigers to associate attacking people with electric shock, did not work as well and tiger attacks continue. Many measures were thus discontinued due to lack of success.
Tiger attacks have also happened in zoos and as exotic pets. Attacks by captive tigers are not that rare. Between 1998 and 2001 there were seven fatal tiger attacks in the United States and at least 20 more attacks that required emergency medical care.
- In the first incident at the San Francisco Zoo, in 2006, a zookeeper was bitten on the arm during a public feeding. In the second incident in 2007, one person was killed and two others were injured before police officers intervened, shooting and killing Tatiana.
- Also in 2007, a 32-year-old Canadian woman was killed when she was outside the cage petting a tiger, it apparently grabbed her leg and mauled her; causing her to bleed to death.
- In 2005, a 17-year-old girl was killed by a captive Siberian tiger at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Kansas, while taking her high school graduation photo with the animal.
- In 2009, at the Calgary Zoo, Vitali, a male Siberian tiger, injured a man trespassing in his enclosure. A handler was also killed by a white tiger in Zion Lion Park.
- In 2014, at the Delhi zoo in India, a male white tiger attacked a 20-year-old mentally unstable man after he accidentally fell into its enclosure. The tiger grabbed the man by the neck and dragged him inside.
- In 2015, a handler was killed at Hamilton Zoo in Hamilton New Zealand
- In 2016, a 38-year-old woman was killed by Hati, a 13-year-old male tiger in an enclosure at the Palm Beach Zoo
- In 2019, Patty Perry, a conservationist, was attacked at her animal sanctuary in Moorpark, California by two Tigers during a donor event.
- In 2020, a 55 year old female zookeeper was killed by Irina, a Siberian tiger, in an enclosure at Zurich Zoo.
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