When is a man-eating tiger a man-eater?
Mudumalai tiger safari, South India – when is a man-eater a man-eater? I know, it seems like a stupid question, but it is a very important one that the park authorities must grapple with after a tiger attack, when making a decision whether to protect or destroy one of the very few remaining wild tigers.
A tiger which kills a human being is called a man-eater in India. In the old days the call would have gone out to the local 'Shikar' and the hunt and killing of that tiger would have followed – although they might not always have killed the right tiger! Having just been on tiger safari in Mudumalai Sanctuary myself and then literally read a couple of days later in the local paper of a male tiger killing two people close to that park, I wanted to clarify some of the issues surrounding tigers which kill and how they are dealt with by the park authorities.
The standard operating procedure – sorry to sound so business like – laid down by the National Tiger Conservation Authority to deal with incidents of tigers straying into human dominated landscapes (a pretty regular occurrence) calls for a differentiation between 'human kill' owing to chance encounters and habituated man-eaters.An example of human kill due to chance encounter happened in Ranthambhore many years ago when a male tiger was trying to cross the road which leads to the fort and famous Ganesh Temple. On certain days of the year over 100,000 people visit this sacred temple and a young boy was killed by the tiger. Research showed from his pug marks that he had been waiting to cross for many hours until losing patience and killing the boy out of fright more than aggression. He was then monitored to check he did not stray into human habitation after the attack – which he didn't – and was then left alone to live a 'free life' as a wild tiger in India.
The option of capturing the aberrant animal either through traps or chemical immobilisation, should be the first option to deal with a tiger who has killed. Confirmed man-eaters will be destroyed as judged to be too big a risk to local villagers or people who stray into the national parks. As I write this blog the male tiger who tragically killed this man and woman has not been caught (Update: Sadly he was captured and killed about a week after I wrote this blog - approx mid-February 2015) and is wandering through a fairly large forest corridor which connects national parks such as Bandipur, Mudumalai, Waynard and Silent Valley. Eye witnesses report that he was a huge older male tiger; indeed it is sometimes the older big cats - tigers and leopards - which can lose the strength/agility to catch their natural prey and start to prey on domestic livestock which are much easier to bring down. This in turn leads to the increased possibility of a human attack due to the change in the cats behaviour and its regular visits to villages.