After killing and eating more than a dozen villagers in India over the last two years, an elusive tigress was shot dead by government-hired hunters on November 2.
Killing endangered wild tigers certainly isn’t ideal, as there are only some 2,150 to 3,150 adults left in the wild, globally. But, in the unusual case that a tiger begins hunting people, it’s necessary that the tiger be killed, or if possible, relocated.
The legendary cats’ greater existence, in a human-dominated world, depends on it.
“When you have a tiger that’s killed 13 people, that really undermines the conservation effort,” John Goodrich, a tiger biologist and chief scientist at the wild cat conservation group Panthera, said in an interview.
This particular tigress, officially called “T-1,” eluded government rangers for two years. When community members live in perpetual fear of such a powerful carnivore, they can turn against the decimated species.
“It’s very easy to poison [tigers],” Anish Andheria, a large carnivore specialist and president of India’s Wildlife Conservation Trust, said in call from India. “So when you have a tiger like this, you should act immediately — so the system remains intact.”
That means allowing the rare wild tigers to exist in healthy, growing numbers by feeding on wild prey, not being gradually picked off after ingesting poison-laden animal carcasses. Ideally, they live on protected, wild lands. But the furtive predators are not fenced in, so they commonly roam outside refuges and sometimes (less ideally) feed on domesticated cattle, goats, or pigs.
The rare rise of a man-eater, however, isn’t fair to local people, many of whom have no choice but to enter tiger country.
“They are the poorest of the poor, making $150 a year maximum,” said Andheria. “They live in constant fear of attack,” he said, noting that they have no choice but to go outside and graze their animals.
“It’s not a good feeling when staying at home isn’t an option,” he added.
Understandably, there has been an outcry, particularly on social media. The tigress was a mother with young cubs.
“People are feeling sorry for her cubs,” said Andheria. “The cubs will suffer.”
It’s a tough situation, he agrees. But conservation trumps other concerns.
“Animal welfare is different than conservation,” Andheria emphasized. “What can you do if you have a murderer? You can’t let the murder go scot-free.”
What drives a tiger to become a man-eater?
“The bottom line, there’s no one thing you can pin it on,” said Goodrich.
Goodrich, who spent 15 years working with tigers in Russia, captured those involved in various human-wildlife conflicts. Around 70 percent of tigers that interacted with people had some sort of injury that likely led them to act aggressively towards people, perhaps driven by hunger. The behavior of the tigress might also have been altered by an infectious disease, he noted.
Yet, with a tiger that’s been killing for two years, Goodrich said such health problems are unlikely.