The Science of Sustainability

Tiger Attacks: The Big Cats of the Sunderban Preserve

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Watch Your Back in the Mangrove Forest

Bengal Tiger -original photo by: Paul MannixMosquitoes are not the only ones that appear to consider humans a main protein source; Tigers in the Sunderbans Preserve
in West Bengal, India, also find them to be easy prey. Some report that close to 300 people have perished in recent years as a result of these cats.

The Sunderban Preserve expands 1000 miles along the Bay of Bengal. In this ecosystem, twice a day the tide rises and salty sea water floods the islands, sandbars, and forests. During high tide, the mangrove trees sit halfway under water, providing homes for fish and other animals.

One remarkable member of this web of wet life is the endangered Bengal Tiger. Some sources state that 500 to 600 tigers find a home in the region, making it the most densely populated tiger habitat on the planet. These tigers manage to live half on land and half in the water, looking for every kind of food source opportunity on land and sea. One such opportunity is humans in boats. As the local people go out in search of fish, wood and honey, they fall prey to these incredible swimmers. Tigers are said to approach a boat or dock so stealthily that they can nab a human lunch without anyone else even hearing and can swim after a boat like a dog runs after a car.

The government and various organizations have issued masks to the villagers. These masks are worn on the back of the head in an attempt to deter a predator that tends to attack from behind. Tigers seem to have learned their way around this and go for a side attack.

Why are these tigers man-eaters? There are many theories and not much research.

The villagers themselves also have a variety of theories on the subject, but most agree that these tigers are great and spiritual beings and deserve to be revered. They worship a tiger god called Daskin Ray and a forest goddess called Bonobibi. They celebrate these gods and pray to them before going out into the forest. They believe the tiger is a protector of the forest, guarding the other plants and animals. They believe that without these man-eating beings, their forest would suffer from increased illegal gathering and poaching and that tigers are a crucial part of the web of life and their lives.

Are there other reasons these tigers prey on humans? What do you think?

The Oakland Zoo works with an organization called Saving Wild Tigers (www.savingwildtigers.org). Our donations go to reparations and scholarships to families that have lost a member to a tiger attack. They feel this offering keeps families and community members in good standing with the tigers, which results in successful conservation of these cats.

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.

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Category: Biology, Environment, Partners

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Amy Gotliffe

About the Author ()

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at the Oakland Zoo. She is a Detroit transplant, enjoying the good Bay Area life for 17 years. She has a degree in communications, holds several teaching credentials and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. She has worked at various Bay Area educational and environmental institutions, teaching second grade, working on campaigns, planting pollinator gardens, producing earth day events and generally spreading the word about wildlife and green living. She currently works at The Oakland Zoo where she serves as the Conservation Manager. There, she coordinates support for international, national and local conservation efforts, produces a Conservation Speaker Series, produces the zoo's Earth Day event, leads eco-trips, teaches the various educational programs and heads up an on-site Green Team. On her list of other passions are travel, photography, music and the lindy hop. :-)
  • http://www.thetech.org/exhibits/online/ugenetics/ Barry

    Wow, this really brought home to me the difficulties involved in conservation. If there was a wild tiger that attacked me on my way to Safeway, suffice it to say I would want there to be one less tiger in the world!

  • Rhiju

    I live in Kolkata capital of West Bengal, The main reason of increased tiger attacks in sunderban, according, to me is due to lack of natural prey. Humans living in close proximity are easy targets and people living in those areas worship the tigers (Tiger god–Dakshin Ray) rarely retaliate violently. For prevention of these attacks i think firstly breeding programs of deer such as the Indian spotted deers should be initiated so as to increase the number of natural prey for the tiger.

  • Krystal

    I have spent the past six years doing research on why only the tigers in the Sunderbans are man-eaters and not the other tigers near there. I have not been over there so my hypothesis for this is only based on the reports that people have posted. I truly think that the tigers in the Sunderbans have never come to see humans as a threat because of the people being wary to harm a connection to Dakshin Ray. Other big cats all around the world have faced hunting pressures that have made them wary of humans. But the cats in the Sunderbans have never truly faced this tyope of pressure, causing them to be more bold. This has lead to them continuing to see people as prey… and easy prey at that. We don't have hooves or horns like their other prey and we are not that strong. We are the equivalent of a hamburger from a fast food resturant.

  • shailaja

    There was a program in discovery channel, a scientist working on tiger conservation came up with an idea where the street dogs in the villages near sunderban forests were trained to drive away the tigers..i felt that was a great effort to catch the dogs by them and that idea actually works and help protect man from tiger as well as tiger from men. i think they should take some more steps as this to ensure the no loss of human life and the tigers should also be protected

  • Tylarcrump

    kinda wered but hope none attack me lol

  • http://twitter.com/TurdBandito Turdito Bandito

    Tigers are amazing, and scary. I heard stories about them jacking people out of small wooden boats in india. Swimming up in the dark of night and just dragging people out of the boat and eating them on land…..WHAT!!!