TIGERS THAT ATTACK HUMANS
Tigers have killed more people than any other big cat species but wild ones kill fewer people than they used because there are so few of them. In the 1990s about 30 to 60 people died each year in India alone from tiger attacks. Worldwide, tigers kill far fewer people than elephants or crocodiles. In most years even hippos kill more people than tigers. Snakes are the No. 1 people killer by a large margin. They kill around 20,000 people a year in India alone.
Most human injuries and fatalities come from captive animals. The natural reaction of wild tigers when encountering a human is to run away. Tigers that kill people often kill their victims the same way they do other animals: they leap on the person's shoulders, bring the victim to the ground with a swat from the fore paws, and kill him with a crushing bite to the neck or head.
Most killings by tigers writes Ward, "are still simple case of mistaken identity---accidents. Since long before the advent of firearms, tigers seem to have been innately wary of humans on foot...Human beings walking upright and sticking to forest roads are relatively safe, then; it is when they wander off into the undergrowth and lean over, cutting grass or collecting firewood, so that they lose their distinctively human look, that the likelihood of tragic error seems to intensify." The silhouette of a hunched over man from a short distance looks surprisingly like a browsing deer.
Some tiger attacks on humans occur when a tiger is cornered or surprised while it is eating its kill but tigers have also been observed stalking humans. Ward witnesses a big male tiger stalking a bullock cart with a man. "Whether it was the bullocks that had caught his eye or the old man who drove, them," he wrote, "we will never know, for our presence ruined the tiger's stalk: He finally stopped, glared at us, glared at his retreating prey, then turned off into the forest.” [Source: Geoffrey Ward, National Geographic May 1992]
In Southeast Asia, some people believe that the ghost of a tiger attack helps the tiger choose his next victim and is particularly apt to attack anyone who reveals information of the man-eater’s movements. For this reason people who live in areas of Southeast Asia where man-eaters are active are reluctant to talk about them.
Many more people were killed by tigers in the past. In the late 1800s and early 1900s around 1,000 people a year were killed by tigers in India that British raj government knew about. Tigers killed 500 people and 20,000 cattle in a single district of Bombay in 1822. In 1769, the town of Bhiwapur was abandoned after more tan 400 people were killed by tigers.
In the 1850s, more than 600 people a year were killed in Sumatra and Java. In areas were tiger attacks frequently occured, villages were either abandoned or turned into fortresses. During the Vietnam War, tigers ate bodies left on the battlefield, and aquired a taste for human flesh and attacked living soldiers.
Man eaters are often wounded tigers, old tigers, or ones who territory has been broached by farmers planting fields in the tiger's range. "A man-eating tiger," Corbett wrote, "is a tiger that has been compelled through stress of circumstances beyond its control; to adopt a diet alien to it...The stress is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case, old age." A study of seven man-eating tigers found six of them had been wounded by hunters and human were only prey they could catch.
Some perfectly healthy tigers attack humans. Those that are man-eaters are believed to have developed a taste for human flesh either by scavenging corpses or accidently killing person. There have been cases of tigers that developed a taste for human flesh when they were young and their mothers brought them human flesh to eat.
In Bangladesh man-eating tigers are believed to responsible for over 60 deaths a year. About 20 people are killed by tigers each year in Nepal, many around and around Royal Chitwan Park. In India, most tiger victims are killed in the Uttar Pradesh region of northern India, particularly in the Kheri district, and the Sunderbans Delta between India and Bangladesh. There are not many tiger deaths in other places because there are not many tigers, and the tigers that remain avoid humans.
The infamous Champawat man-eater, a single tiger, killed 436 people (200 in Nepal before it was driven out by the army there and 235 in the Champawat district of India) between 1902 and 1907.. In one five-year period in the 1930s more than 7,000 people were killed. Tombstones dating to that time found in British cemeteries sometimes read “Died of injuries received from a tiger.” Corbett described one villages that was boarded up for five days during a siege by a single tigress.
Environmental Factors and Tiger Attacks
A number of attacks occur outside parks and reserves for tigers. These parks are usually too small for the tigers, and have villages located inside them. In parks where all the territory is claimed by older tigers, young tigers without territory have been forced to look for prey outside the parks where fatal encounters with humans are more likely. There is also a problem with tigers, especially mother’s with cubs, whose normal hunting ranges have been disrupted and they have to turn to other sources for food. These tigers are more likely to go after livestock than humans.
Many tiger attacks occur where people encroach on tiger habitats. About 20 people are killed by tigers in the Kheri district of India each year. Up until 1947 this region was covered by dense forests and malarial swamps, perfect habitats for tigers but forbidding ones for people. After India became independent the swamps were drained to make room for settlers and some of those who settled in tiger territory were killed.
Many tiger attacks also occur at Dudwa National Park, created when a conservation-minded farmer asked that a 200-square-mile forest adjoining his farm be declared a national park, and problems developed when the number of people living around the park exploded. In 1977 there were 21 villages on the periphery of Dudwa, now there are more than 100. Dangerous encounters between tigers and humans.
Some attacks occur where villagers enter tiger territory to cut grass, collect firewood or plant sugar cane. Sugar cane grows like a tall grass and tiger females regard it as an ideal place to raise their young. When the villages come to cut the sugar cane, the tiger regards it as a provocation and attacks the villagers. The death rate outside is so extraordinarily high at Dudwa because cane fields that begin at the edge of the park.
"Mixed use doesn't works," one ranger told National Geographic. "Tigers are naturally fearful of human beings, but familiarity breeds contempt---and tragedy." The forest corridors that wildlife officials had hoped to establish to prevent encounters between humans and tigers have yet to materialize.
Protection from Tigers
If confronted by a wild tiger you are supposed to stand your grown, and shout aggressively. You are not supposed to turn your back or run because that triggers the hunting and killing instinct in a tiger. With that said, even animal specialists who know the procedure find it difficult to put into practice. Describing an encounter with a tiger 30 feet away, primatologist Russ Mittermeier said, "It turned towards us and the guy with me started to run. I told him you're not supposed to run away from cats and then I ran like hell myself. I went right past him."
Some people who are around tigers a lot keep a can of pepper spray, a cattle prod, or a broom handy. Arjan (Billy) Singh, a famous tiger conservationist, carries a short, carved "tiger stick" when he tracks tigers. Most researchers and conservationists either have a gun or a vehicle nearby.
Tigers rarely attack an animal or a person that is facing them. To reduce the number of deaths in the Sundarbans, swampy area between India and Bangladesh famous for aggressive tigers, villagers wear clay masks on the back of their head to make the tiger approaching from behind think that the person is facing them. Masks on the back of the head worked for about two years before the tigers wizened to the trick, and attacked anyway.
In another effort to protect villagers in the Sundarbans, clay dummies dressed as farmers, woodcutters and fisherman were electrically wired to household batteries and even car batteries that gave attacking tigers a 230 volt jolt when they jumped the dummies. The plan eventually turned out to be unmanageable. It was too time consuming and dangerous to change the batteries.
Tiger Attacks in Nepal
A Nepalese tiger killed at least 37 people in the 1980s. One victim, a four-year-old boy, was attacked at his house and dragged into the jungle. Family members later found a few body parts about 200 meters away. It was believed the tiger lived in a cave during the day and roamed around villages on the edge of the jungle at night.
Another tiger in Nepal killed a woman in front of her husband and pulled another victim from a tree and ate much of his body. Another tiger there killed seven people in a single day and was itself killed when it returned to eat a woman it had earlier killed. A woman in Nepal who survived a tiger attack showed Ward her scars: "two neat round holes left behind her ears when her attacker's canine's pierced first her skull and then her brain."
In November 2001, Ananova reported: “A man-eating tigress has been shot dead in Nepal after killing seven people. The animal's latest victim was a woman looking for firewood and cattle fodder near an inaccessible forest. Hunters decided to kill the tiger instead of trying to capture it. The tiger had escaped from the a National Park before terrorising three villages in a month, reports the Nepal News website. [Source: Ananova, November 12, 2001]
In October 2001, Ananova reported: Two tigers have killed 11 people in a single week in Nepal. Wildlife officials say the animals also mauled four other villagers. One of the big cats has been caught and shot. The other is still on the loose. One of the man-eating tigers killed six people in several villages in Nawalparasi district after straying out of Royal Chitwan National Park. The other killed five villagers near Ayodhayanagar, reports nepalnews.com "We have sent technicians to the area after requests to track down the man-eater. We will dart it if the animal in young and healthy to be kept at the zoo and kill it if it is old and sick," said a wildlife official. [Source: Ananova, October 31, 2001]
Tiger Attacks in Indonesia
In January 1998, AP reported: “Frightened villagers have trapped a rare Sumatran tiger they believe killed four people last year, and officials were awaiting money for tranquilizer darts so they could transport it to a zoo. While some villagers has asked police to kill the Sumatran tiger, Indonesia's last surviving tiger species, the animal is protected under Indonesian law because of its endangered status. Residents of the village of Fajar Bulan on the island of Sumatra, about 190 miles northwest of Jakarta, captured the wild tiger in a nearby jungle by ensnaring its left leg with a lasso-like trap, police Lt. Suharto said. The tiger was being held until local officials could buy tranquilizer darts to subdue the animal and take it to a zoo, police said. [Source: Associated Press, January 2, 1998]
Three of the four victims in last year's tiger attacks were plantation workers, the Indonesian Observer reported. A fourth was a farmer who was mauled to death by a tiger soon after a herd of wild elephants trampled through his rice fields. Suharto said police still had not established whether the tiger trapped Thursday had attacked anyone. Deforestation is a major problem in Sumatra, where wildfires raged last year and forced normally timid wildlife into populated areas. The World Wide Fund for Nature has estimated that just 500 Sumatran tigers remain on the island.
Tiger Attacks in Thailand and Malaysia
In January 1998, AP reported: “A starving tiger was shot and killed in a Thai wildlife sanctuary after attacking and seriously injuring two forest rangers. The tiger, estimated to be about 15 years old, was apparently desperate for food and made two forays into the staff living area at Khao Yai, 130 miles northeast of Bangkok. Ranger Khammual Thongtam, 21, said the tiger appeared while he was washing his clothes on a balcony. The tiger leaped three feet onto the balcony and attacked him, biting and clawing his arms. Another ranger came to his aid and was badly mauled. The tiger fled when their screams attracted more help. [Source: Associated Press, January 15, 1998]
``Tigers usually just run away when they smell humans, except when they are hurt or starving,'' Khammual said Thursday. However, the tiger returned in the middle of the night and was shot by another ranger. The animal had an old bullet in its right frong leg, which rangers said probably left it unable to hunt for food in the jungle.
In January 1999, Associated Press reported: “A tiger pounced on a villager in an eastern Malaysia rubber estate, but the man fought back and survived, a newspaper reported today. Mahat Awang, 26, was checking a trap for wild boars when the tiger leapt out of the bushes, the English-language New Straits Times daily said. Mahat said he shouted to his companion to run while he struggled but failed to reach for his hunting knife. "I tried to fight back but got bitten on my hands and back of my head," the man was quoted as saying. "After attacking me, the tiger ran into the bushes and disappeared," he said. Mahat required 50 stitches. No explanation was offered for why the tiger changed its mind. [Source: Associated Press, January 18, 1999]
Tiger Attacks in India
An 18-year-old boy slain by a tigress in a sugar cane field near India's Dudwa National Park in 1992 had been sent to the field to shoo away birds. He was discovered by his grandfather who followed a bloody trail from the boy's sandals to a thicket where he found the tigress crouched over the boy’s corpse. The grandfather fled when the animal growled. When he returned later with men from the village the tigress had disappeared. After the killing everyone in the village was afraid to go out at night. [Source: Geoffrey Ward, National Geographic May 1992]
The survivor of two attacks by the same tiger near Dudwa Park showed Ward a jagged scar from one of the encounters. It went clear across the bald top of his head. Flames from a fallen lamp saved him the first time and shouts from his companion saved him the second time. He attributed his luck to his consumption of "a great deal of milk."
In March 1987 a tiger killed a teenage girl just inside the boundary of Corbett National Park. When a crowd approached the tiger in attempt to claim the body the tiger attacked and killed another person. The villagers finally retrieved the bodies and then took out their rage by smashing the windows and vehicles at the home of the park director. Two years earlier a British ornithologist was killed by a tigress with cubs in the same park as he pursued an owl into dense bush. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian, November 1987]
In December 2004, a tiger mauled a 12-year-old tribal boy to death in Kalegaon village Balaghat, India
Man-Eating Tiger Killed in Central India in 2007
In December 2007, TNN reported: “Four police department sharpshooters shot dead the man-eating tiger, which had wreaked havoc in Talodi, at 8 am on Friday. Interestingly, the wild cat turned out to be a male tiger and not a female as assumed earlier. The animal was shot in compartment number 30 on the periphery of Govindpur village, when it was approaching a bull that it had killed. The village is part of the Talodi-Balapur forest range of Bramhapuri forest division in North Chandrapur Circle in Chandrapur District in Maharashtra State . [Source: Vijay Pinjarkar & Mazhar Ali, TNN, December 1, 2007]
"It was a close encounter from about 60 metres. In all, we fired 38 rounds and eight bullets were removed from the caracass of the tiger. When we hit the first bullet, the tiger was still walking but his movement became slow. We fired more rounds but two bullets---one in the neck and another in the heart---proved fatal," sharpshooters Durgadas Gadam and Vijay Bhardiya told "I'm relieved. It was a right decision as human life is more important for us than the tiger. We had been chasing the animal since October 15 but were unsuccessful. We would have been in trouble following more attacks on humans," remarked B Majumdar, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), wildlife, Maharashtra.
The tiger had killed six villagers, four of them in little over a month. "We had been spending sleepless nights for the past six months. Now our nightmare is over," claimed many villagers, who looked relaxed after seeing the tiger dead. The sharpshooters from Chandrapur headquarters were led by Rahul Sorte, RFO. When the dead tiger was being taken in a vehicle, hundreds of curious villagers thronged the roads to have a glimpse of the man-eater. The officials also went slow to send a message that the animal was killed.
Tiger Attacks in Bangladesh
In January 2002, Ananova reported: “Angry villagers in Bangladesh have trapped a tiger with fishing nets and beat it to death. It came after the animal attacked and wounded a young man. The aging tiger was foraged into the fishing village of Sardarpara from the forest, and attacked a young man who was walking to the local market. As word spread, a mob of dozens of fishermen rushed to rescue the man and beat the tiger with wooden oars and iron rods. The wounded man was taken to the hospital with a bleeding arm. Bangladesh does not have a figure on the tiger population of the forest, which is shared by Bangladesh and India. But foraging tigers killed at least a dozen Bangladeshis in the past year, authorities said. [Source: Ananova, January 12, 2002]
In April 2000, Inam Ahmed of United Press International: “Panicked Bangladeshi villagers beat to death an endangered Royal Bengal Tiger Wednesday and then attacked local forest department officials who came to investigate the incident. According to reports, the tiger entered the Datnekhali village overnight in search of food. It then fell asleep in the kitchen of a hut where it was discovered Wednesday morning. Scared villagers immediately raised alarm and started beating drums and utensils to scare the tiger away. This in turn is reported to have scared the animal, which attacked the mob, wounding two villagers. The other villagers, however, managed to corner the animal and beat it to death using sticks and spears. Later as forest department officials arrived at the spot, the enraged villagers beat them up. [Source: Inam Ahmed, United Press International, April 12, 2000]
This is the second time that a tiger has been killed this year. On January 24, another tiger was ensnared and killed. The Global Tiger Forum early this year had said Bangladesh has 362 tigers left in the Sundarbans. There has been an increasing trend in tigers entering villages as humans are encroaching on the forest. Experts say this has led to man-eating incidents.
Tiger Attacks in the Sunderbans
About a third of all the tiger attacks in India occur in the Sunderbans, a densely vegetated mangrove swamp on the border between India and Bangladesh. Estimates of tiger victims there range from 15 to 100 a year. There are between 260 to 520 tigers in the Sundarbans, the largest concentration in the world,
Sunderbans tigers have been known to stalk their human prey for days and burst out of the water and snatch people sitting on boats. Their victims are mostly fishermen, honey gatherers and woodcutters who enter the swamps. Most villages in the Sunderbans have at least one tiger widow. One individual tiger, identified by his paw mark, killed at least 14 people.
One 64-year-old woodcutter told Time, "My friend was chopping down a tree while three of us stood guard around him, watching the jungle. Suddenly, a tiger leapt over our heads and attacked my friend at the tree. The tiger was dragging him away...so I grabbed my friend’s legs and tried to pull hi out of the tigers mouth." The tiger let go but the died from his injuries and woodcutter never went back into the jungle." A fishermen said, "I woke up to see the flash of a tiger as it jumped over me to attack the man sleeping next to me. The tiger killed him."
Sunderbans tigers have had a reputation for fierceness for a long time. In the late 1800s, according to British records, they killed roughly 700 people a year. In 1666 a French explorer wrote: "Among these islands, it is in many places dangerous to land, and great care must be had that the boat, which during the night is fastened to a tree, be kept at some distance from the shore, for it constantly happened that some person or another falls prey to tigers. these ferocious animals are very apt...to enter into the boat itself, while the people are asleep, and to carry away some victim."
Why Sunderbans Tigers are So Dangerous
"Why the tigers are so different in their view of people," wrote Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, "is subject to various speculations: they are to drink salt water and are therefore more irritable; they acquired a taste for humans from eating incompletely cremated corpses floating down from the holy Ganges; the sucking ooze of the swamp makes it difficult for tigers to catch their prey; the dampness of the region discouraged normal territoriality and made the tigers more aggressive.
One in very three Sundarbans tiger, says Ward "is thought to be an 'opportunistic man-eater,' one that will kill and eat any vulnerable human it happens to encounter. No one is certain why. Some believe the daily tides that wash away the tigers' scent markings force the animal to be unusually combative in order to hold on to their territories. Another possible explanation is that too much salt water might affect their livers, rendering them especially irritable." [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian, November 1987]
One World Wildlife Fund scientist told TIME, "Every Sunderbans tiger is a potential man-eater. This trait for killing human beings had definitely been passed down to cubs." Efforts to shoot the man-eaters has proved in effective. See Protection Against Man-eating Tigers Under Tiger Attacks
The people of the Sundarbans worship the man eaters as Dakisn Ray, the tiger god, often depicted as a warrior riding a tiger. Both Muslims and Hindus pay homage to Daksin Ray. "Everyone in Sundarbans knows that Daksin Ray can enter the body of any tiger at will," writes Montgomery. "Thus all tigers are scared and holy, expressions of the power of God." People in this part of the Indian subcontinent believe in gunins, specialists who deal with the mystical powers of "tigers, crocodiles, ghost, illnesses and gods."
Farmers Fight Back Against Tigers
Villagers attacked by tigers have fought back by poisoning carcasses that tigers feed on, ambushing and shooting the predators, and planting explosives in their kills that blow their heads off when they dig in and set off the trigger mechanism. "How can you blame the poor cultivator?" Billy asks, "he has one acre of land and one bullock to plow it. If a tiger takes that bullock, what is he to do?"
Tiger killers are often treated as heros rather than villains. A man who killed a tiger that killed 15 men in one month was heaped with praise by villagers who washed his feet and hired musicians to greet him and were upset that the man was given a six month jail term and had to pay a 5,000 rupee fine for killing the tiger.
In India after a tiger has taken three people it is labeled a man eater and given a death sentence. Sharp shooters are called in to perform the deed after word of the forth kill is reported. Tigers that kill only one or two people are left alone. The Indian government reimburses the families of tiger victim: 10,000 rupees ($400) for each adult and 5,000 rupees for each minor. A buffalo is worth 3,000 and cow about 800 if it happened outside a park. The paperwork for tiger claims take months to process and the money usually doesn't arrive until more than a year after the claim is filed.
Some villagers feel that tigers are treated better than them One man whose close fried lost his wife to a tiger told Ward, "the government cares only about tigers. They do not care about us." Another added "We might as well be dogs. In my village no one stirs from his hut once the sun is down" out of fear of tiger attacks. One villager suggested, “They should kill all the tigers before we are all killed.
Villagers and local people in tiger country are often put on the defensive, After conservationist became upset when several dead tigers were seen floating down a river in northern Kheri, local officials said the tigers mysteriously "committed suicide." Protesters beat up rangers in one park because they were barred from using park land to raise crops and cattle.
Siberian Tiger Attacks of People
One average Siberian tigers kill about one person a year. Many of them are trappers who approached to close to the tigers. Unprovoked attacks by man-eaters occurs about once every four years. Provoked attacks are much more common. Many of the victims are unsuccessful tiger poachers. Dogs and livestock are frequently taken by Siberian tigers. This occurs often enough that the government compensates people who lose animal to tiger attacks.
In February 1995, a trapper failed t return after checking his sable traps near Melnichnoye. A few days later his legs were discovered surrounded by pugmarks from a tiger. It is believed that the man-eater was half-starved and attacked the man from from a hidden position behind a fallen tree.
In January 1996, a tiger attacked and mauled a woman at a rural train station near the town of Patizanask, northeast of Vladivostok. The woman's husbands ran up to the tiger and struck it with a flashlight. He saved his wife, but in n the process was killed by the tiger who was several hours later feeding on the man chest and entrails. The tiger was tracked down and killed. Around the same time another tiger killed a poacher by swatting him with a paw. The man apparently died of shock and cold.
According to a report filed on a hunter named Kulikov who was killed in the winter of 1997: "All found there was a rifle, a cartridge belt, parts of the clothing, the hunter' skull and leg in high boot...People who know Kulikob tell that he promised them to fetch a tiger skin. Now his comrade regrets: 'He shouldn't have.'"
In the 1950s, a tiger was killed by a train station in Vladivostok. It had killed a dog and mauled a colt and threatened people living in a row of cottages. In 1986, a tiger was caught in downtown Vladivostok. A tractor driver was eaten by a tiger in 1976. On another occasion a hunter checking his traps was attacked by a tiger. Armed only with an ax, the man was saved by his dog, which bit the tiger’s tail and held on until the tiger fled.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated November 2012