Large number of man-eating tigers debilitated by porcupine quills

Often, man-eating tigers become the danger that they are to people because they've been injured in some way which has incapacitated them, or they are debilitated to such an extent that they can no longer prey upon their standard prey animal which is a large ungulate. They turn to humans as an alternative and as an easy prey animal.

And one way that a tiger can become debilitated is when they try and attack and eat a porcupine. This is not that uncommon in wild animals generally and you will also certainly see domestic dogs getting into an awful state with porcupine quills all over their face. The quills can kill a dog.

And, you might know that porcupine quills are very hard to remove because they have barbs along the shaft as you can see in the photograph. In fact, the barbs drive the quill further into the body when the body moves where they can damage internal organs.

Porcupine and a quill showing the barbs
Porcupine and a quill showing the barbs. Image: MikeB

Tigers can't remove them by biting on them and if there are a large number on perhaps their face, chest and forelimbs they are debilitated, and they clearly cause a lot of distress.

I'm able to recount a story of a female tiger that had great difficulty in trying to kill a porcupine weighing 15 kg. By the way, porcupines are rodents.

A 'great white hunter' (tiger and leopard killer) turned conservationists after whom a tiger reserve has been named, Jim Corbett, described a tigress living happily on deer and wild pigs until she had the misfortune of losing an eye in an encounter with a porcupine.

He said that she:

"Got some filthy quills, varying in length from 1 to 9 inches, embedded in the arm and under the pad of her right foreleg. Several of these quills after striking a bone had doubled back in the form of a U, the point and the broken-off end being close together. Suppurating sores formed where she had endeavoured to extract the quills with her teeth, and while she was lying in a thick patch of grass, starving and licking her wounds, a woman selected this particular patch of grass to cut as fodder for her cattle. At first the tigress took no notice, but when the woman had cut the grass right up to where she was lying, the tigress struck, the blow crushing in the woman's skull".

The tigress did not feed on the woman's body and two days later she killed a woodcutter who had come to chip the wood of a fallen tree where she was resting.

She ate a small portion of this woodcutter and the next day she killed and ate a third person.

And after this, she sadly became a man-eater. She went on to kill 24 people before she was shot dead.

The story highlights how a modest prey item, the porcupine, can end up, indirectly, killing a tiger. And it highlights, too, how man-eating tigers are often incapacitated.

However, it should be remembered that some man-eaters are in good condition. They are fine specimens with no injuries or defects. It begs the question as to why they end up desiring to kill people.

It has been suggested that the reason is that a tiger may become marginalised because they've been pushed off their home range by another tiger. They wander around without a home and survive by killing domestic stock one farmland. They come into contact with people such as farmers and perhaps villagers. Because they are marginalised and struggle to survive, they end up killing people.


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