The tiger is one of the world’s most revered megafauna. Identified scientifically as a species in the 18th century, tigers are known and respected worldwide, serving as mascots, story elements, and literary figures in almost every culture. However, in certain parts of the world, they are also terror lurking in the darkness. Tiger attacks are feared widely throughout Asia as human development encroaches on the habitat of this big cat.
The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the world’s largest living cat. With teeth measuring up to four inches long, a male tiger can weigh up to 675 pounds, while females are slightly smaller. Solitary hunters that hunt their prey at night, tigers can be found throughout Asia in warm and cold climates. Tigers are endangered due to the encroachment of humans and the deforestation that has followed, as well as overhunting due to fear, protection of livestock, or a desire for their colorful coats.
Why Tigers Attack
Tigers don’t usually hunt humans for prey and typically avoid contact. However, the encroachment of human society on once isolated habitats has brought them together even as tigers are endangered. Tigers may lose their fear of humans in these situations as they come into increased contact.
The expansion of farmland, business, and urban/suburban growth has eroded the habitats of these large cats, decreasing the availability of favored prey. They may increasingly attack humans as they become desperate for food.
Additionally, tigers that are injured, sick, or otherwise incapacitated may begin to feed on humans if they are nearby. Desperation resulting from their impaired hunting skills will push them to attack whatever they see or feel they can more easily handle.
Historical Records of Tiger Attacks
One study of tiger attacks, limiting itself to reliable reports, estimated 373,000 deaths from tiger attacks from 1800 to 2009 in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia. This does not include the approximately 10,000 attacks in China from AD 49 to 1950, reports from Russia, and Korea, a 1625 report from Indonesia, or various reports from islands between Singapore and the coast of the Malay peninsula.
Recorded Attacks in the Wild
The Sundarbans, located on the border of India and Bangladesh, have a population of about 100 tigers. Though there was ample game and the tiger population was relatively robust and healthy, the tigers there used to kill about fifty or sixty people a year. Due to better wildlife management practices, there are only about three human deaths yearly.
Apart from attacks in the Sundarbans, prehistoric attacks, and historical estimates of attacks, several individual episodes have been recorded in more detail, like the ones below.
The Champawat Tiger
In the late 19th century, a tigress went on a killing spree, killing about 200 men and women in Nepal until it was driven out and eventually found a new home in the Champawat district in the state of Uttarakhand in North India. In Champawat, it killed an additional 230 people, entering villages in daylight looking for prey. After it killed a 16-year-old girl in 1907, the tiger was hunted and killed by Jim Corbett with the help of concerned villagers. Examination showed that she had broken canine teeth, which inhibited her ability to hunt her typical prey.
Tigers of Chowgarh
In December of 1925, a tigress and her semi-adult male cub attacked and killed a man from the village of Dalkania in Kumaon, Northern India. This was the first attack of what would eventually become approximately 64 fatalities over five years. The tigers were active over an area of 1,500 square miles. In February 1929, Jim Corbett was called upon to kill the tigers. He arrived in March and eventually tracked the tigers, shooting the cub. The tigress escaped and continued killing until he finally confronted it in March of 1930 when he shot and killed it. The tigress was found to have broken claws and teeth, which probably motivated it to hunt humans.
The Thak Man-Eater was a tigress that killed four people (two men and two women) in the Eastern Kumaon region of Northern India, near the village of Thak. After the tiger was killed in November of 1930, it was discovered that an infected gunshot wound had weakened it and caused it to seek easier prey like humans. Female tigers are more likely to do this if they are injured and have cubs to care for, which this one did. It is believed that the tiger was shot sometime between April and September. The tiger was the last kill of the hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett.
Man-Eater of Bhimashankar
A retired police constable from the village relaid the story of the man-eater of Bhimashankar. The account was authenticated through official reports and a certificate from the British government confirming the killing of the tiger. The villager told of a tiger that attacked people in that area for two years during the 1940s. The tiger supposedly killed nearly 100 people, though only two bodies were found. Its victims tended to be villagers it found sleeping outside their huts. Eventually, a local hunter named Ismail finally killed it with the help of Kenneth Anderson.
Tiger of Mundachipallam
Unlike many of the tiger attacks noted above, the Tiger of Mundachipallam was not known to have any illness or infirmity that caused it to hunt humans. This male Bengal tiger, responsible for seven people’s deaths, killed its first three victims in seemingly unprovoked attacks. The final four victims were eaten. The attacks took place in the 1950s near the Hogenakkal Falls in Tamil Nadu, not far from the village of Pennagram. The tiger was shot and killed by Kenneth Anderson.
The Tiger of Segur
In 1954, on the banks of the Segur River, author and hunter Kenneth Anderson killed a young male Bengal tiger responsible for five people’s deaths. He located the tiger in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, South India. Anderson killed many man-eaters in India. Upon examination, this tiger was found to have an injury or disability, which made it difficult to hunt its traditional prey.
Tara of the Dudhwa National Park
Dudhwa National Park, in India, was the home to several man-eating tigers in the late 1970s. One such tiger made her first kill on March 2nd, 1978, soon followed by three more. It was believed that the tiger was a British-born tiger named Tara, raised in captivity and released into the wild by hunter-turned-conservationist Billy Arjan Singh. Naturalists believed that Tara didn’t have the skills necessary to hunt in the wild and that her level of comfort with humans, whom she associated with food, led her into their proximity, where she found it easier to prey upon humans. Twenty-four people were killed before she was shot, though it was not confirmed with absolute certainty that she was the man-eater. The conservationist and his supporters maintain that she was not the culprit, but authorities continue to believe that she was the tiger responsible for the kills. Other man-eaters have existed in the park, but attacks have been limited to about two per year in recent years during the monsoon season when people go into the reserve to harvest grass.
Tigress of Moradabad
In February 2014, a tigress killed seven people near Jim Corbett National Park in the Bijnor and Moradabad region. Though hunters placed camera traps and monitored the area through unmanned aerial vehicles, the tiger remains unidentified. Despite the inability of local authorities to capture the tiger, the attacks ended in August of that year.
Tigress of Yavatmal
During 2016-2018, a tigress (designated by authorities as T-1) was responsible for the deaths of 13 people in the Yavatmal district of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. After an extensive campaign involving 100 camera traps, bait horses and goats, treetop platforms, armed patrols, drones, a hang glider, elephants, and 200 people combing the forests and grasslands, the tiger was shot and killed in self-defense when it charged officials trying to tranquilize it in November 2018. During the campaign, wildlife officials even tried using Obsession for Men as a scent bait for traps in the hopes that its pheromones would attract the tiger.
Tigers of Bardia National Park, Nepal
In 2021 four tigers were responsible for the deaths of 10 people in Bardia National park, Nepal. Among the victims were a 45-year-old man and an elephant mahout participating in a rhino count. The tigers were captured separately at Gaidamachan on April 4th, Khata on March 18th, and Geruwa on March 17th. One of the tigers soon escaped and returned to the forests. The other three, however, were shipped to rescue centers. Some of the tigers were diagnosed with broken canine teeth, possibly from fighting.
Tiger Attacks in Captivity
Attacks in captivity have also occurred in zoos and among exotic pet owners. Even in captivity, tiger attacks are not uncommon. From 1998-2001, there were seven fatal attacks in the United States and 20 attacks resulting in the need for emergency medical care.
- In 1985, two Siberian tigers at the Bronx Zoo killed a keeper in the Wild Asia exhibit enclosure.
- On September 3rd, 2003, police tranquilized and captured a Siberian-Bengal hybrid named Ming, owned by 34-year-old Antoine Yates. Yates, a cab driver, who lived in a Harlem, New York City, public housing complex, was bitten by his exotic pet when he tried to keep it from attacking his cat, Shadow. Yates was treated and released, but the tiger was sent to Noah’s Lost Ark Animal Sanctuary in Berlin Center, Ohio, where Ming lived out the rest of his life.
- In 2003, Roy Horn, who was a trainer and performer, was attacked by a Siberian tiger on the stage. Horn was permanently disabled in the attack, and the show was closed.
- A captive Siberian tiger killed a 17-year-old girl in 2005 at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Kansas, where she was posing for a graduation photograph.
- During a 2006 public feeding at the San Francisco Zoo, a zookeeper was bitten on the arm by a tiger.
- Also at the San Francisco Zoo, one person was killed, and two were injured before police shot and killed the tiger, Tatiana, in 2007.
- In 2007, a 32-year-old Canadian woman, petting her Siberian tiger outside of its cage, was grabbed by the leg, mauled, and bled to death. Her children called for emergency services.
- At the Calgary Zoo in 2009, Vitali, a male Siberian tiger, injured a man who was trespassing in an enclosure.
- In 2009 at Zion Lion Park, a handler was killed by a white tiger.
- On July 31st, 2012, a zookeeper in Mangalore was killed by Raja, an ailing tiger, after he entered the squeezer cage despite warnings.
- An 11-year-old boy was attacked by a tiger at a zoo in Brazil in July 2014. The boy’s arm was ultimately amputated.
- At the Delhi Zoo, India, in 2014, a male tiger attacked a 20-year-old man who accidentally fell into the enclosure. The tiger dragged him into the enclosure by his neck.
- In 2015, at the Hamilton Zoo, in Hamilton, New Zealand, a handler was killed.
- On June 27th, 2015, in Tbilisi, a white tiger that escaped the zoo during flooding on the 13th and 14th attacked and fatally wounded a man in a storehouse near the zoo. Police later shot the tiger.
- Hati, A 13-year-old tiger, killed a 38-year-old woman inside an enclosure at Palm Beach Zoo in 2016.
- In May 2017, zoo keeper Rosa King was killed by the Malayan tiger, Cicip, at Hamerton Zoo Park, Cambridgeshire, U.K. A gate meant to separate workers from tigers in an enclosure was left open, and King was attacked.
- Michel B. Coleman, former mayor of Columbus, Ohio, was attacked by a 6-year-old female tiger while attending an event in 2018 at the Columbus Zoo. Coleman suffered minor injuries.
- Conservationist Patty Perry was attacked by two tigers at her Moorpark, California, animal sanctuary during a donor event in 2019.
- In 2020 Irina, a Siberian tiger, killed a 50-year-old female zookeeper in an enclosure at the Zurich Zoo.
- On December 3rd, 2020, a tiger named Kimba bit and seriously injured a volunteer at the animal sanctuary “Big Cat Rescue,” run by Carole Baskin, in Florida.
- In 2021 at a predator park in South Africa, a Siberian tiger killed an employee and another tiger.
- In August 2021, at a safari park in Rancagua, Chile, Catalina Fernanda Torres Ibarra, a 21-year-old female zookeeper, was killed by a Bengal tiger.
- On December 29th, 2021, an 8-year-old Malayan tiger named Eko attacked 26-year-old River Rosenquist at the Naples Zoo in South Florida. Rosenquist, a cleaning crew member, entered the enclosure without authorization, and his arm was bitten. Eko would not release Rosenquist and was shot by a Collier County deputy.
How to Handle a Tiger Encounter
If you encounter a tiger, wildlife experts say not to turn your back on it. Tigers like to hunt from behind and chase their prey. Look the tiger in the eye and make plenty of loud noise without panicking, then slowly back away. In some cases, bear spray has been shown to deter tigers. Whatever you do, do not corner the animal.
Preventing Tiger Attacks
Tiger attacks are difficult to anticipate or prevent. Inhabitants of one village in India noticed that tiger attacks tended to come from the rear, so they designed masks to wear on the backs of their heads. This worked for a while, but the tigers learned that this was a deception. The attacks in the village resumed. Other things, like the release of alternative prey and the distribution of electrified human dummies, have been tried with little success.
As the biggest cat on the face of the earth, the tiger should be treated with caution and respect. There are more recorded attacks by tigers than by lions. Even as an exotic pet, this animal remains wild at heart. Tigers can even become more dangerous when accustomed to humans. People and tigers don’t mix well. The best way to avoid confrontations with tigers may be to protect and respect their habitat. Give them their space.
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