What Do You Do With A Man-Eating Tiger?

Apparently, a tigress has “escaped”*  from Jim Corbett National Wildlife Park, and is on a bit of a human-eating binge: there’s anywhere from 8-10 kills currently being attributed to her (there’s some question about two of them, and belief a male tiger may have been at fault). The facet of all of this coverage that interests me is a tricky one: what should be done with the tiger(s)?

On one hand, the tigers are killing and eating people, which we don’t want to happen – bad habits, and all that; also, humans generally feel killing other humans is a Bad Thing. The tiger’s prey has thusfar been villagers in and around Corbett (several hours from us, and in the plains) and they generally did not consider a need for anti-tiger devices. These are subsistence-level communities in most cases, and they are not equipped with things like, oh, indoor plumbing. They go outside into nature to “answer nature’s call”, and apparently at least one person has been killed while doing so. I can venture with some degree of certainty that none of us think of being eaten while we’re going about such an activity – yet now there are communities who cannot take care of basic bodily functions without doing so. These people should be able to go in peace and with some conscious degree of safety, and lives – all lives – are valuable.

On the other hand… tigers are endangered, and one of the reasons they are endangered is shrinking habitats and shrinking numbers of prey. This tiger is a demonstration of the need for expanded territory and increased prey availability (whether it’s cheetal, sambar, or something else); we’re mad at the tiger and it’s a newsworthy event because the tiger is… well, doing what tigers do. It’s being a predator, and it’s doing what it’s doing because there is apparently not enough prey in Corbett to satisfy it. Killing the tiger does not solve the problem, and I believe would only increase it the lack of addressing the problem: we’ve got ’em in zoos, right? Tiger leaves, kill it! Why bother?

I hope they don’t kill the tiger(s) involved here — trap them (as was attempted) and then send them somewhere else, like perhaps Kabini Lake, where there are over 20,000 cheetal (and 70 or so tigers). I’m sure the genetic variation would be appreciated at another park. Perhaps expanding Corbett’s footprint would also be a good move – while it would be lots of paperwork, I have little doubt that more lives could be saved if additional space for tiger territory was created, and more prey animals moved in to help balance that aspect of the ecosystem. The village may need to move, and it would be frustrating and upsetting to have to uproot your community, but I will wave the “pro-endangered-species” flag. India’s trying to advance at a rapid pace to accommodate its growing population, and in doing so is often sacrificing critical aspects of the environment. Tiger tourism is a major economic benefit for the country (just look at us – safaris in Ranthambhore, Wayanad and Kabini, and no tigers seen so far — and we’ll keep going until we see one!), and India is home to about half of the world’s remaining wild tigers. Even if one /is/ eating people, I think a move needs to be made that is “how do we rehabilitate this animal” – not “how do we eliminate it”. Maybe a zoo?

It’s not an easy thing to find a solution to a problem like this. We can’t have justification in hand-waving and saying “people are more important than animals” – but there are (equally justifiably) people who will believe the animals can’t be rehabilitated and must be destroyed in order to solve the problem.

*it’s not like she had a fence to manage, nor was she told “Oh, by the way, you’re not allowed out of here”. India is her natural habitat; she’s just expanding her territory, not ‘escaping’.

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