Tiger Conflict with Humans

Tiger conflict with humans is really about man-eating tigers in the old fashioned sense. Or at least that is probably what people are interested in hearing about.

The truth, though, is far more mundane. Tigers are not really interested in us. They want to be left alone and to leave us alone. Although tigers have plenty of opportunities to kill us and clearly have the ability to do so, they do not.

Using radiotelemetry (tigers wearing radio transmitters) we can tell that even when tigers are close to footpaths used by people they ignore the people. By close I mean a few meters (ten feet).

Corbett was a tiger hunter turned conservationists. A tiger reserve in the north of India is named after him. He knew tigers and he sums it up very nicely.

Tigers he says are "very good tempered", except when wounded or man-eaters. Tigers object to people getting too close to its cubs or perhaps prey it has killed and is guarding. However, the tiger does not just attack to defend, it will give a clear signal to the person to stay away. The tiger growls initially. If this is ineffective and the person is stupid enough to stay or approach, the tiger will charge and roar. That should be enough to terrify anyone into retreating quickly. If not the blame for injury or death of the person is on the person.

Man-eating tigers become man-eaters because of factors that are out of the control of the tiger. If a tiger is injured, perhaps by a bullet or is very old, it may be compelled to attack easy prey, the human who inhabits the same territory.  The human inhabits the same territory because of the large population size of the human.

Examples bear out Corbett's (25 July 1875 in Nainital, India – 19 April 1955 in Nyeri, Kenya) assessment.

In the Chitwan district of Nepal there were a series of attacks (Chitwan man-eaters). In one case a young male tiger was injured in a fight with another tiger when looking for its own range. He was badly injured and unable to move so a warden patched him up and released him. The tiger was left with a limp. Being a less effective hunter he survived by killing cattle at the edge of the park. Being next to livestock he met a person one day, a young school teacher. The tiger killed the school teacher and fled. The tiger wore a radio collar so it was possible to track him, tranquillise him and take him to a zoo. A nice ending for the tiger. In the old days he would have been shot I suspect. It is a classic example, however.

Surprising though it is, porcupine quills can severely injure a tiger. One example is off a tigress who was blinded in one eye by a quill and who suffered a suppurating wound to her paw pad on the foreleg being impaled by another quill. In all fifty quills were stuck into her. The tigress eventually attacked a woman cutting grass very close to the tiger. The tiger was starving and driven to attack a person. She did not eat the killed woman (killed by a blow to the head). The tigress next attacked a man, a woodcutter. She killed him and ate a bit. She followed up with 24 human kills. She was then shot. All because of a 15 kg porcupine. It seems tigers can't always recognise the dangers of some small animals.

Unfortunately were humans live close to tigers you will get instances of death by tiger attack due to tiger conflict with humans. In one survey it was estimated that 100-150 people were being killed by tigers in the Sunderbans, a large tiger reserve in Bangladesh. Attacks were reduced by people wearing masks on the back of their heads as tigers attack from behind. It is legal to kill a tiger in self-defence in India.


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