There is a good amount of misleading information written about the tiger attack. It is something that tends to get sensationalised by journalists. And amongst the large wild cats such as the puma, leopard and lion, there are more attacks by tigers than for the others. This is probably why the tiger is written about in the terms that it is. It is also why we fear the tiger and that ends up with us killing it. But, and this is a big but, despite the fact that tigers can kill us easily and quickly, they rarely do1.
…….the Sunderban tigers are not man-eaters because of a genetic inheritance, for man-eating has never been a handout of parent to progeny…” (Billy Arjun Singh)2
Tigers tend to avoid people..and give a warning growl…(allowing time for the person to extricate themselves slowly!)3
….a man-eating tiger has been…compelled through stress of circumstance to adopt a diet that is alien to it.4 (circumstance means wounds or old age).
The dreaded tiger attack seems to take place (or has taken place) more frequently in some places than in others.
|Place||Tiger Attack Frequency5|
|Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysian peninsula and Sumatra||“Almost unknown”6|
|South China||“Serious problem” – eliminated by eliminating the tiger and turning it into pharmaceutical products and health food (e.g. Tiger Bone wine).|
|Indian subcontinent7||It varies across the continent.|
The tiger attack and man eating tigers are restricted it seems to certain areas (3) the most notorious being the Sunderbans of Bangladesh.
I discuss the phenomenon of the tiger conflict with humans in the Sunderbans below.
The Sunderbans is part of India’s Project Tiger and spreads over 2585sq.kms9
The Sunderbans provides a home for 4 Million People and 200 Tigers10 (at 2009 – although a census says there are 27911 but counting tigers is problematic and there are political pressures). It is one of the great last reserves of the tiger (the Bengal tiger). The Sunderbans is a large swampy area in West Bengal and Southern Bangladesh.
Sadly, the tiger attack is on the rise in this area partly because of the underlying reason that the human population (and subsequent human activity) is on the rise in that area. This results in greater human/tiger conflict through prey depletion forcing the tiger to take measures that do not come naturally to it; attack people. And about 8,000 people a year (as at 2002 – it is probably more now) receive permits to “farm” this reserve by for example fishing there.
For this reason it is arguable that they cannot co-exist. Things are getting progressively worse. A percentage of the four million humans mentioned find the 200 tigers too much to cope with. A lot of people are frightened of the tiger. Agreed, tigers can be dangerous but when we look at the comparison in population size who are we to blame for the two species being forced together? One has risen hugely and continues to do so and the other is consistently falling towards gradual extinction. And as mentioned, tigers would normally steer clear of the human.
Also what is happening is global warming (a controversial subject), which is causing the sea level to rise. This forces the tiger further north were there are more people. Global warming is arguable an indirect result of human population growth. It could be argued therefore that we are the authors of an increase in the frightening tiger attack.
Before 2002 fishermen accounted for 70% of the total of people entering the Sunderbans reserve and as a result 82% of the casualties of tiger attacks12. Honey gatherers are also vulnerable. Overall it is thought that tiger attacks in the Sunderbans are due to:
- lack of fresh water
- diminished prey population
- too many people in the reserve13
|Year or period||Deaths by Tiger Attack in Sunderbans14|
|1975 to 1989||521|
|Early 2000s||100 to 150 per year in Bangladesh|
Short of removing people from the area (a sure fire way to resolve the problem) some creative methods have been used to prevent tiger attacks. The most successful was the wearing of face masks on the back of the head. Tigers like to attack from behind and the mask meant that the tiger was never behind a person (from the tiger’s perspective). It is legal to kill a tiger in self defense in India under The Wildlife Protection Act 197215(see Cats and the Law – India). But how is this law applied?
A classic story of the making of a tiger man-eater is related by the Sunquists. A young tiger became seriously injured in a fight with another tiger perhaps over a home range. He was patched up by a park warden but was unable thereafter to catch wild prey so relied on livestock which brought him nearer to people which in turn lead to the tiger attacking a women. He has put in a zoo. A relatively good ending arguably.
A recent example of a tiger attack that killed a fisherman was reported by the BBC. In the village of Jamespur, Seba Mridha has lost her husband to a tiger attack. She is afraid of the tigers as are people in her community, she says. There are a substantial number of widows. Most of the attacks take place in the forest and not when tigers come to the villages. The people pray to their local goddess Bonbibi (Lady of the Forest), for protection. Madhu Mondal says that sometimes the tiger drags the person’s body away, never to be seen again.
8 A file from the Wikimedia Commons. User: Monster eagle