Description and Behavior Part Three|
Tigers usually attack large prey with a stalk from the rear, ending with a rush and, sometimes, a spring to bring down the prey. When seizing and killing prey, the tiger’s main target is the neck, either the nape or the throat. The part seized depends on several factors, such as the size of the prey; the size of the tiger; whether the attack is from front, rear or side; and the reactive movements of the prey. Most observations have been of attacks on tethered, young male buffaloes, whose movements are handicapped. There have been relatively few observations of attacks on free-ranging wild animals. Attack and killing methods are described by Brander (1923), Champion (1927), Burton (1933), Corbett (1957), Schaller (1967), McDougal (1977), Thapar (1986), Karanth 1993, Sankhala (1993), and Seidensticker and McDougal (1993). Schaller (1967) noted that adult tigers appeared to be very cautious, and attacked only when the danger of injury was minimal. He states that a tiger characteristically grasps the throat after felling its prey, holding on until the animal dies from suffocation. The throat hold protects the tiger from horns, antlers and hooves and allows it to prevent the prey from regaining its feet. Sankhala (1993) states that tigers prefer to bite the back of the neck, as close as possible to the skull, killing the victim by fracturing the vertebrae and compressing the spinal chord. Larger animals, however, are generally killed with a throat bite. For example, Karanth (1993) examined 181 tiger kills and found that most large prey, such as sambar and gaur, were killed by throat bites. The prey is then usually dragged into cover, tigers displaying their great strength in dragging, even lifting, heavy carcasses. Pocock (1939a) cites an instance in Burma of a tiger dragging the carcass of a gaur that 13 men could not move.
A tiger eats 18-40 kg of meat at a time (Baikov 1925, Locke 1954, Schaller 1967)
beginning from the rump. If undisturbed, it returns to its kill for 3-6 days to feed until little
remains (Karanth 1993a). Large prey is taken about once a week. Sunquist (1981)
estimated frequency of killing by females without cubs at once every 8-8.5 days in Chitwan.
Although highly skilled hunters, tigers are often unsuccessful. They seldom make the effort to
press home a failing attack, but Rice (1986) once observed a tiger pursue a wounded
sambar for more than two kilometres for just over two hours in southern India. Schaller (1967)
observed 12 complete stalks of which only one was successful, and suggested that it was probable
that only one in 20 attacks succeeded. According to V. Thapar (pers. comm.), one in 10
attacks are successful in Ranthambore, with its high density of prey.
has been observed. Pocock (1939a) said that couples and family groups hunted together,
but gave no references. Thapar (1986) observed several instances in Ranthambhore.
A group of two males and three females, possibly a family, behaved like lions, taking up positions
round a lake where deer congregated and driving a target animal from one to the other. Corbett
(1953) mentions villagers’ reports of two tigers, attacking in concert, killing a large tusker
Although lions and leopards also kill humans, tigers have the greatest reputation as man-eaters,
especially in India. The history of man-eaters (the term is loosely used to include fatal attacks due
to some form of provocation) is reviewed by McDougal (1987). He quotes average fatalities
due to tigers at 851 a year between 1902 and 1910, and 1,603 in 1922 alone. The Champawat tiger
is said to have killed 434 people in Nepal and India before it was shot (Corbett 1952).
However, in recent times, with greatly reduced numbers of tigers, attacks on people have been
relatively rare, except in the Sundarbans mangrove forest fringing the Bay of Bengal in India and
Bangladesh. The recent annual toll of people in the Indian Sundarbans tiger reserve has fluctuated
between 66 in 1975-76; 15 in 1989 and 42 in 1992 (K. Chakrabarty, S.C. Dey, pers. comm.).
Most deaths have been of fisherfolk, wood-cutters and honey-collectors entering the reserve. The
high 1992 figure is attributed to illegal entry by people, including young children, seeking to
benefit from lucrative prawn harvesting (S.C. Dey pers. comm. 1992). Earlier, management
measures, including the use of human face masks on the back of the head to deter tigers (which
usually attack from the rear) appeared to be reducing the toll (Rishi 1988, P. Sanyal pers. comm.
Since 1978, over 200 people have been killed in the vicinity of India’s Dudhwa National Park, near
south-western Nepal. The problem is attributed especially to sugar cane cultivation right to the edge
of the park. The cane fields provide good cover for tigers, which then come into contact with
agriculturists. Many deaths arise from accidental confrontations in which the tiger makes a defensive
The Sundarbans tigers have had a reputation as man-eaters since at least the 17th century
(Bernier 1670) but, elsewhere, man-eating is usually the result of a tiger’s incapacity,
through age or injury, to catch normal prey. A chance encounter in which such a tiger kills someone
in a defensive reaction and feeds on the body may lead it to target people as easy prey. A man-eating
tigress may introduce her cubs to human prey. But deaths and injuries caused by surprised tigers or a
tigress defending her cubs from intrusion do not usually lead to man-eating. Schaller (1967)
agrees with the view of Corbett (1957): “Tigers, except when wounded or man-eaters, are
on the whole very good tempered. If warnings (growls, rushes and roars) are disregarded, the blame
for any injury inflicted rests entirely with the intruder.” See Part II Chapter 2 for more discussion of
© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union