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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.
If a human comes too close and surprises a sleeping or a feeding tiger (particularly if it is a tigress with cubs), a tiger may attack and kill a human. Tigers can 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 to ride a bicycle, or run in a region where tigers live in order to not provoke their chase. Peter Byrne wrote 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.
In some cases tigers change their natural diet and become man-eaters. This is usually caused by a tiger being incapacitated by a gunshot wound or porcupine quills, or some other factors, such as health issues and disabilities. As tigers in Asia often live in a close proximity to a large number of humans, the tiger has killed more people than any other cat. Between 1876 and 1912, tigers killed 33,247 people in British India.
Man-eaters have been a recurrent problem for India, especially in Kumaon, Garhwal and the Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal. Here some healthy tigers have been known to hunt humans. Even though tigers usually avoid elephants, they have been known to jump over elephant's backs and severely harm the mahout riding on the elephant's back. Kesri Singh mentioned a case when a fatally wounded tiger attacked and killed a hunter who wounded it, while a hunter was on the back of an elephant. Most man-eating tigers are eventually captured, shot or poisoned.
Taste for human flesh may be acquired by the consumption of corpses which have lain unburied. During the Vietnam and Korean Wars, soldiers became the victims of tigers who had acquired a taste for human flesh in this way. 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. Unlike man-eating leopards, 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 are choosing 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 once reaching this stage did she attack a workman.
The Champawat Tiger was a notorious man-eating tigress who supposedly 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 extremely cunning, as man-eaters usually are. She 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 was a young man-eating male Bengal tiger who killed 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 would later shift 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. Anderson later wrote that the tiger had a disability preventing it from hunting its natural prey.
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 her story is widely known as the last hunt of the legendary hunter, conservationist and the author Jim Corbett. Hunting her was one of the most dramatic hunting stories, as Corbett called her up and killed her during the dying seconds of the daylight, after he lost all other means to track her down. Postmortem revealed that this tigress had two old gun-inflicted 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.
The Tiger of Mundachipallam was a male Bengal tiger which killed 7 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 Champawat 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.
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 600 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.
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 the famed hunter from Bangalore, 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.
While the Sundarbans are particularly well known throughout the world for its 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. As is usual in cases of this type, 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 remains the most famous man-eater of the reserve because she 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.
Forest officials say a female tiger has killed its 10th human victim in a month while evading three hunters tracking its pug marks in northern India; the tiger had strayed from the park, prowling near villages on the border between the north Indian states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The latest victim, killed Sunday night, February 9, 2014, was a 50-year-old man mauled while collecting firewood; the tiger ate parts of the man's leg and abdomen before being scared off by villagers waving metal rods and shovels.