Why do tigers attack humans?

There are two main reasons why tigers attack humans, (1) they are probably injured or infirm and have to rely on easy prey and (2) humans and tigers are being forced together because of increased human population and therefore there is human-tiger conflict.

It could be argued that there is no place for the tiger, any more, in India. I mention India because it is the country in which there is the greatest population of tigers. They are Bengal tigers. The Indian human population is expanding rapidly and has done for a long time. There are 1.4 billion people in India. It’s a big country but the population has grown by about 60 million in the last three years! This is about the population of the UK – in three years. As the human population grows, the tiger population decreases. But the two species are put together unnaturally.

Tiger walking down country track after a group of women in India's Ranthambhore national park
Tiger walking down country track after a group of women in India’s Ranthambhore national park. Photo: JOYDIP SUCHANDRA KUNDU.
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Under these circumstances, a tiger who has been injured, perhaps in a fight with another tiger over territory, and is finding it difficult to kill its usual prey animals or even find them, may prey upon a person if they happen to bump into him/her on their travels. It might be an act of desperation, almost, on behalf of the tiger to survive. Humans are easy prey to a tiger but they are not usual prey. They will steer clear of people normally. “Man-eaters” are injured or sick lions, tigers or leopards. The experts say that if a tiger has tasted the blood of a human they’ll return and they have to be killed. They always are in retaliation killings which reinforces the argument that the tigers presence in India is uncomfortable.

Mask which protects from tiger attack
Mask which protects from tiger attack. Photo: Raghu Rai/Magnum

Indians have discovered that if they wear a mask of a human face on the back of their heads, tigers are reluctant to attack (the same technique is used to protect cattle from lions in Africa). In the Sundarbans, a delta of rivers where they join the sea, straddling India and Bangladesh, Bengal tigers live. In that area there is human-tiger conflict because armers live and work there and they encounter Bengal tigers which can lead to their untimely deaths.

In the modern world, it seems to me that the possibility of bumping into a tiger if you are walking in the countryside is an anachronism. It’s a wonderful thing in some ways because tigers are awesome and tourists fly thousand of miles to see them. But it doesn’t fit nicely into the modern world. India is becoming a modern country. The tiger is out of place in this country. In the not too distant future there will be no place for them except for reserves and even those are being encroached upon by human settlements.

Tsavo man-eating lion
Tsavo man-eating lion and Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson. Toothache turned these magnificent lions into “man-eaters”.

There’s been a desperate attempt over decades to try and protect the Bengal tiger in India but you have to concede that it has been a failure. The entire world’s population of tigers is about 3000+. We don’t know how many there are exactly. A BBC article in 2004 said that there are 1,700 tigers in India. There’s a picture of a tiger following a group of women along a country track. The women look over their shoulders while this hungry, skinny young adult tiger inquisitively looks at them. It is in a national park but people live in these parks. That sort of situation can only occur in India and Bangladesh. It’s anachronistic. Give it 50 more years and that will never happen. The days of the tiger wandering around the countryside are almost over permanently.

You’ll just see them in zoos and in quite tight reserves because there will be less space for reserves. To summarise, the tiger attacks humans because they are hungry and they can’t attack prey because they’re too old or infirm or there is no prey to attack. And there’s no prey to attack because humans have already attacked it! Just another human intervention into the way of life of a tiger trying to survive in the human world.

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