Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Man eating tigers of India

Every since Jim Corbett published accounts of man eating tigers in Kumaon region, the phenomena of man eating tigers and leopards reached the World.

Tigers are top predators in the food chain. They are tertiary carnivores and hence indicator species of the forest ecosystems. The main prey base of the tigers and leopards are the herbivores albeit the big cats eat anything that walks on four legs. In Indian forests the tigers hunt spotted deer, sambar deer, swamp deer, wild boar, langur monkey and at times bison, elephant calf and porcupine. Tigers are known to predate on leopards but that is more of a territorial conflict than the quest for food.

Tigers are dense forest animals and avoid open or scrub forest. They need cover to hide since they hunt by ambush. They need lot of shade as they cannot bear the heat. Hence good prey base, dense forest cover and water is essential to a tigers habitat.

By nature humans are not included in tiger's food. The reason is that tigers are afraid of humans and avoid them always. The jungles of India once harbored a large number of tigers before deforestation, unchecked hunting and poaching took its toll. Susbsequently it affected the prey base or the population of the herbivores. The scarcity of prey base put the tiger under a major stress and some resorted to man eating by accident in these circumstances. In quest for food, tigers in forests with inadequate prey base wandered near human habitation. In search of food they began to lift cattle. In the conflict with man it sometimes resulted in accidental killing of humans. On discovering the ease with which humans could be killed the tigers emboldened with this finding went on killing spree where lot of humans lost their lives.

Tigers also turned into man eaters when injured by hunters to such an extent that they could not hunt their natural prey since their hunting prowess get affected. Unprofessional adventurous shikaris where the main culprits behind this man killing by tigers.

Once the tiger turns into a man eater it goes after humans with amazing efficiency. A man eating tiger is difficult to track and kill as it moves swiftly from one place to another in order to avoid alerting humans. A man eating tiger can cover a range of as much as hundred kilometers during the period. The incidence of man killing has come down drastically as there are hardly any tigers left outside prime habitats. The incidence of man killing by leopards is still higher as the leopard is more stressed out due to want of space and prey base.

Rarely do tigers kill by intent. There are accidental killings taking place by tigers and these rarely result in tiger turning into a man eater. The accidents happen if humans venture too close to an unaware tiger, a tiger on kill or to a tigress with cubs. The first instinct of tigers is to move away from human beings. But in certain circumstances this is not possible and the animal is forced to attack in self defense.

Tiger is a gentleman and follows the law of the jungle to a tee. Man eating under all circumstances is an aberration as even the most powerful of the tigers are known to fear man.

If tigers are conserved in India and their habitats are kept intact there would be no man killing incidences. The tigers face a road uphill, and their survival seems to be a deep uncertainty.

Labeling tigers as horrible and cruel man killers without understanding the real cause results in hatred being created for the animal. It is labeled of as vermin (as in earlier times) in minds of the human society which further escalates its chances of facing extinction in India and elsewhere.