By Rahul Dass
Two tigers in India turned man-eaters in the recent past while a third killed a human but didn't eat it. Experts warn that such attacks will continue as the heavily-muscled, endangered predator jostles for space with humans.
India, home to an estimated 1,700 tigers, is seeing attacks by the majestic big cats whose riveting yellowish-amber gaze is enough to strike fear.
"Full blown cases of man-eating are few and largely occur where tiger populations are thriving. Human-tiger conflict is a price paid for successful tiger conservation," India's leading tiger expert Ullas Karanth told IANS.
Karanth, director of science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society, said in an e-mail that "loss of fear of humans and consequent viewing of human beings as prey is what man-eating is all about".
A man-eating tigress in Uttar Pradesh's Moradabad district is reported to have killed four men since Dec 29 after it possibly came out of a buffer zone of Corbett national park. Tamil Nadu's picturesque Ooty has been gripped by fear after a tiger killed three people, including a woman who was pounced upon by the crouching animal while returning home with workers. A victim's partially-eaten body was also found.
Maharastra too saw a tiger kill a villager near the Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve.
Jimmy Borah, WWF's coordinator for its tiger project, explained that it is clearly a "problem of human disturbance".
"Tigers are coming out...looking for prey," Borah told IANS.
Borah was of the opinion that tiger attacks are not increasing; in fact they are "stable".
So, do tigers which kill humans turn man-eaters?
"No," said Borah.
"In some instances, if the tiger is old and very hungry, it will probably eat (humans)," he said.
Tigers, which weigh 135 - 230 kg, are widely distributed from the alpine Himalayas to the rain forests of southern Western Ghats and from the dry forests of Rajasthan to the moist forests of northeastern India.
The tiger is one of the largest and most feared predators in the world. The body length of the male ranges from 275-290 cm and of the female around 260 cm.
Tigers are solitary and territorial and the territory of an adult male may encompass the territories of two to seven females. It is carnivorous and hunts for prey primarily by sight and sound. It feeds on deer, wild pigs and sometimes even other predators like leopards and bears, said the WWF.
M.K. Ranjitsinh, chairman of board of trustees of Wildlife Trust of India, told IANS: "There were more man-eaters in the past."
"Each case of a man-eating tiger has to be dealt with differently...In fact, the trait gets passed on from mother to cubs," said Ranjitsinh, an expert on Indian wildlife and natural history who has authored many books, including "Beyond the Tiger: Portraits of Asian Wildlife".
What about capturing man-eating tigers and keeping them in captivity?
"A man-eater has to be destroyed. What's the use of keeping it in captivity. You can't release it," he said.
"A tiger which is a confirmed man-eater will do it again," he added, stressing: "A man-killer is not a man-eater."
Tigers are predatory, he said, so "man-eating tigers will be there from time to time. You have to contend with that."