Man Versus Man-eaters

Mask which protects from tiger attack
Mask which protects from tiger attack. Photo: Raghu Rai/Magnum
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There are some smart and innovative ways for Indians to protect themselves from being eaten by tigers in the Sundarbans, which is a sprawling 10,000 square kilometre delta and mangrove swamp at the mouth of the rivers Ganges and Brahmaptura where they flow into the Bay of Bengal. Incidentally the rise in sea level is causing further problems in the Sundarbans.

It is one of the many tiger reserves for the highly endangered Bengal tiger and a place where people make a living through fishing, honey collection and timber. The two species – human and tiger – collide and it is said that the Sundarbans tigers are more aggressive than usual because they drink the salty water. This, incidentally, resulted in freshwater ponds being constructed for the tigers.

It should be said, at the outset, that tigers usually attack people for odd reasons such as they are too injured to catch their usual prey or encounter a person by surprise and become defensive.

It is interesting to know that the mighty Bengal tiger is reluctant to attack a person from the front. Knowing this, the trick is to lead the tiger into believing he is constantly looking at a person face to face. To the tigers of the Sundarbans, there is no such thing as the back of a person! This is because the people working there wear a plastic face mask on the back of their heads. The tiger thinks he is being observed. This, so far, has fooled the tiger. It has resulted in a dramatic drop in attacks.

Apparently the idea of wearing face masks is based on butterfly wings which have large eye-like spots to deter birds.

Another innovative but less subtle technique to deter the tiger is the use of plastic dummies wired up to a car battery. The dummies are clothed like fishermen and honey collectors. The clothes are impregnated with electrified wires. You can guess what happens when and if a tiger attacks the dummy – he gets a shock and so learns that the human is not a prey to mess with. I am not sure about the humane aspect of this personally but I don’t live in the Sundarbans.

Also, pigs are released as food for the tiger in areas where tigers and people are most likely to meet, such as villages. This is a rather crude way of preventing the tiger attacking other livestock and people.

The collecting, by Indians, of the fronds of the phoenix palm has been banned as tigers like to lie up in the dense vegetation to give birth to cubs.

Other less effective defensive measures are fireworks (even the tiger is frightened of fireworks) and praying for protection at little shrines to jungle deities which are revered by Hindus and Muslims. Sometimes people may be accompanied by shamans or priests reciting mantras to deter the feared Bengal tiger.

Of all the methods in the man versus man-eater battle of wits the plastic face mask is the neatest.

4 thoughts on “Man Versus Man-eaters”

  1. At least it appears that the tigers are protected to some extent ie they aren’t allowed to collect certain fronds and they certainly aren’t allowed to protect themselves by killing the tigers. The mask is a great idea and looks very effective!

    • Yes, when humans protect themselves from a tiger attack they are also protecting the tiger because if the tiger attacks a man the tiger is then hunted and killed because they say that a man-eater gets a habit for it.

  2. Nice article. Clever little trick with the mask.
    I was fascinated right up to the point where pigs are sacrificed to deter the tigers from other livestock and humans. I don’t like it; but, I have to assume that there just isn’t enough already present prey around.

    • Yes, the people kill the prey so the tiger is forced to eat livestock. I guess pigs are expendable. Sounds awful. Really the tiger should be left alone but there are too many people in that neck of the woods…er I mean swamp 😉

      Tourists go there to see tigers and hardly ever see one. Too rare.


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