Discover the Most Dangerous Tiger Ever to Stalk the Earth, With Over 400 Human Kills

Written by Andrew Wood
Updated: April 26, 2023
© iStock.com/dito:Aleksejs Loginovs
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If you ask very many people what their favorite wild animal is, it won’t take long for someone to name the tiger. With their exotic orange-and-black striped fur and their massive size, as the largest of all the great cats, tigers give us lots of reasons to be fascinated with them. In fact, they are so beloved that most of the surviving tigers in the world actually live in captivity in the United States rather than in the wild. But what about the most dangerous tiger that ever lived?

It would be a mistake to think of tigers as just bigger versions of house cats, however. They are apex predators with a mouth full of teeth, as deadly as any bear, alligator, or other major predator can be. Unfortunately, while wild tigers mostly avoid people who leave them alone, in some historical cases they have developed a taste for human blood, and a mystifying cleverness for avoiding hunters. Such was the case with the Champawat tiger, the most dangerous tiger in history, which killed over 400 people in Nepal and Northern India at the turn of the 20th century.

tiger running in snow
Tigers are the largest and most powerful of all the big cats.

©enky03/Shutterstock.com

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Key Points

  • Tigers are the largest of the big cat species on Earth.
  • They are indigenous to Asia, with subspecies in the tropics and in the sub-arctic climates of the Asian mountains as far north as Siberia.
  • The Champawat tiger was a female responsible for killing 436 people in Nepal and India at the turn of the 20th century.
  • She was shot and killed in 1907 by Jim Corbett.
  • Nepal and India are among only 10 countries in the world that still have wild tigers today
  • Conservation efforts in Nepal from 2009-2022 tripled the tiger population to 355 individuals.
  • The majority of tigers in the world live in captivity in the United States, where they number about 5,000. Only about 4,800 remain in their natural habitats in Asia.

A Crash Course in Tigers

Description

Tigers (Panthera tigris) are the largest of the big cats, and much of their weight is pure muscle. Their size differs according to their sex, with males up to 1.7 times bigger than females. In fact, the size difference is so great that a tracker often can determine the sex of a tiger just by examining their tracks. Males grow up to 122 inches long and weigh up to 569 pounds, while females reach a smaller 108 inches long and weigh 368 pounds. They have long tails that can be up to half the length of their bodies. Their tails help them balance and manage their momentum as they run and spring. A tiger tail can be anywhere from 2-3.5 long. Tigers can live to 15 years in the wild. In captivity, they may see 26 years old.

Of course, the most recognizable feature of a tiger is its orange fur with black stripes and white highlights and belly. Tiger stripes are unique to each individual, very much like fingerprints are to a person, and can help researchers tell them apart when observed in the wild or in photographs. It may be hard to understand how a bright orange coat can be a form of camouflage because it can make the tiger stand out to human vision in the right lighting. However, some of the favorite prey species of tigers, such as deer, cannot distinguish between orange and green. This makes the tiger well-disguised from its prey, especially in tall grass.

Playful tiger cub shows its paws
Every tiger has a unique pattern of stripes.

©Eric Isselee/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

Tigers originated in Asia, and their range once took in much of the continent, as far west as modern Iran. They favor a forested habitat but can thrive in a variety of climate zones from tropical to sub-arctic. Their range extends from India and Indonesia in the south to China and Russia in the north. Tigers love water and swim well – up to 18 miles in a day. They especially enjoy cooling off in rivers and pools in tropical regions.

Tigers are territorial and mark boundaries by leaving scratch marks on trees, strategically leaving urine, feces, and glandular secretions where other tigers can find them, and roaring loudly to alert others of their presence. Tigers require anywhere from 3 square miles to 1,500 square miles of territory to find enough prey to feed themselves. They are usually solitary but have been documented sharing their kills with other tigers. Females are more likely to do this than dominant males.

siberian tiger vs bengal tiger
Tigers are good swimmers. In the tropics, they swim not only to get to prey but just to cool off.

©Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.com

Prey

Tigers are apex predators that eat a large variety of other animals, particularly medium-to-large mammals such as boar and deer. But they can eat just about anything: birds, dogs, monkeys, leopards, bears, alligators, snakes, and fish. They can achieve bursts of speed of 40-50 mph and can leap horizontally 30 feet. Their typical hunting strategy is to lie in wait in vegetation. Then, they explode from the forest perpendicular to their prey. They throw it off balance by hitting it in the side and gripping onto its neck with its 3.5-inch-long fangs. It does all it can to hang onto the animal’s neck to kill it by strangulation. In this way, a tiger can overpower an animal much larger than itself.

One reported incident illustrated the immense and deadly power of a tiger. This particular individual managed to kill an adult gaur. It dragged it 39 feet away to hide it in some vegetation. Later, 13 men were unable to budge the carcass! It’s easy to see why any tiger would be a serious threat.

Gaur bull
Tigers are strong, strategic hunters who can bring down large animals like this Indian gaur.

©RealityImages/Shutterstock.com

The Champawat Tiger: The Most Dangerous Tiger on Earth

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Nepal and Northern India were terrorized by a female Bengal tiger. About 436 kills were split about evenly between the two countries. The Champawat tiger holds the world record for causing the largest number of human fatalities of any species of animal.

The attacks began in a village in western Nepal. Hunters were called in but were unable to find the tigress. Later, the Nepalese army was called in and also could not find and kill her. They changed their strategy and organized a huge “beat” to scare the tiger from her territory. She fled from the Sarda River into India, where she established a new territory and began killing Indian people.

In India, her territory was roughly centered on the town of Champawat. But she staked out a large territory with multiple villages. She would travel as much as 20 miles a night to move from one to the next to evade hunters. She preyed particularly on women and children who were feeding livestock or going to the forest for firewood. Whereas most tigers hunt at night, all of her kills were during the day. People became so frightened at the sound of the tiger’s roar, they stayed in their homes and refused to work.

The Last Attack

In 1907, the tiger killed 16-year-old Premka Devi, a girl in the village of Fungar. Hunter Jim Corbett was able to follow a trail of blood to the remains of the victim. However, he was ambushed by the tiger herself. Scaring her off with warning shots, he returned to the village. There, he organized a beat with 300 villagers the next day to flush her out of the forest. Finding her, Corbett shot her in the chest and shoulder. He landed a final shot to her foot, causing her to collapse 20 feet from him. And that’s how the most dangerous tiger on Earth met her end.

Tiger
Unusually, the Champawat tiger hunted during the day instead of at night, preying mainly upon women and children.

©Dick Mudde – Public Domain

What Turned the Champawat Tiger into a Killer?

The death of this most dangerous tiger that preyed upon children was legitimately a cause for celebration, but the probable reason for her unusual behavior is quite sad. A postmortem examination showed that, although she was a healthy tiger only 10-12 years old, her upper and lower canine teeth on the right side were broken as a result of an old gunshot. This made it more difficult for her to hunt her natural prey and more appealing to pick off young human beings. In the years following this kill, Jim Corbett became a renowned hunter of man-eaters, in great demand as deforestation was driving big cats like tigers and leopards to hunt humans for food.

Photograph of a mountain top that has been destroyed by logging. Brownish red dirt is visible where all of the trees have been clear-cut. Many tree trunks are seen in the center frame. The destroyed mountaintop is dimmed with live, green trees. In the background are mountain tops that have not been destroyed.
Loss of habitat is one of the reasons wild predators may occasionally begin to hunt humans.

©Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

How Many Tigers Are Left?

Today, tigers are endangered from loss of habitat, as their natural range in Asia includes the most heavily populated region of the earth, with some 40% of the population of the entire human race living in Southern and Eastern Asia. Tigers are also feared as predators who might not only hurt people but often prey upon livestock when they get the opportunity, particularly if the livestock is grazed away from more populated areas. And finally, tiger pelts, bones, and internal organs can fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. Traditional Asian medical folklore teaches that tiger organs and powdered bone can be used to increase virility and cure a variety of health issues. These beliefs fuel an active black market that greatly threatens the survival of these animals.

There were an estimated 100,000 wild tigers in the world when the infamous “most dangerous tiger on Earth” was active, but today only about 4,800 remain, in just 10 countries including India and Nepal. Nepal has worked hard to increase the wild tiger population through vigorous conservation efforts and has a current population of 355, while India has the largest wild population in the world at nearly 3,000. Keeping a large wild population of tigers comes at a terrible price, though, as about 100 people in India are killed every year by tigers.

The United States

The country with the largest number of tigers, though all in captivity, is the United States. It is currently estimated that 5,000 tigers are being kept in the U.S. It might seem like this captive population is a benefit to conservation efforts. But 95% of these animals are held as private property by pet owners or small roadside displays. They are not housed in state-of-the-art zoo habitats where their health can be monitored. Private breeding is not always done in a scientifically sound way. Many of these tigers are inbred and have a variety of health problems. This makes them unsuitable for release into the wild. They would weaken the genetic stock and survivability of wild tigers.

Famous Conservationists: Founder of Save China's Tiger, Li Quan wikimedia: The requested page title is empty or contains only the name of a namespace.
Many people are willing to pay for the opportunity to take pictures with these animals.

©Save China’s Tiger / CC BY-SA 2.5 – License

Global Conservation Efforts

Internationally, the Global Tiger Recovery Program started in 2010 by countries that still have wild tiger populations. It combines knowledge and efforts to conserve tigers. Conservation efforts often focus on laws to control poachers and the black market. They also focus on habitat protection, preventing human-tiger contact in the wild, research, and monitoring tiger population levels. In the United States, recently-passed legislation better regulates private exotic animal ownership. It controls the import of these kinds of species and curbs the use of tiger cubs for profits. These rules protect the public and make it harder for private owners to breed tigers irresponsibly.

Ecotourism is another way to help preserve tigers and other endangered species. It creates a financial incentive for local governments to preserve pristine habitats. These habitats draw tourists who are led by responsible guides through wild areas. Wild Sumatra is one example, offering multi-day tiger treks.

The story of the Champawat tiger reminds us that tigers and humans are not meant to share the same habitats. Hopefully, we can give the tigers enough space so that they can survive without hunting people.


The Featured Image

tiger
Amur Tiger yawning in Scottish highland wildlife park
© iStock.com/dito:Aleksejs Loginovs

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer, world traveler, and lifelong animal lover. Currently, I'm an "Emotional Support Human" to 4 dogs, 1 cat, and 2 guinea pigs. My favorite wild animal is the quokka, the most selfie-friendly animal in the world!

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