Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My

frica is a continent in which many humans still live with the realiza tion that predation may be a part of daily life. Probably the most famous modern man-eaters in Africa were the legendary Tsavo lions held responsible for the deaths of over a hundred railroad workers during a nine-month period in 1896.1 These may also be the only individual wild animals to be featured in a statement to the British Parliament. The prime minister of Great Britain in 1896, the Marquis of Salisbury, was called to explain the delay in completion of the Uganda Railway. His apology was blunt and typically colonial: "The whole of the works were put to a stop because a pair of man-eating lions appeared in the locality and conceived a most unfortunate taste for our workmen."2

The railroad construction was stalled for quite some time around Kenya's Tsavo locale due to these man-eating lions. The body count, when all was said and done, was allegedly 135 workers devoured. Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History received the carcasses of the two man-eaters after an intensive physical and psychological war was waged against them by British engineer J. H. Patterson—the character immortalized in the film The Ghost and the Darkness. Patterson succeeded in killing the two lions in 1898; 100 years later scientists at the

Field Museum began studying the remains looking for clues concerning why these lions preyed on humans. The results of their study negate age or ill health as reasons for seeking human prey, although the late nineteenth-century period corresponds with the outbreak of a disease that nearly eliminated African buffalo, the lions' favored food. One of the Field Museum researchers, Julian Kerbis Peterhans, estimates scores of people are killed in Africa annually by lions. "Given the right circumstances," he says, "any lion is capable of attacking people."3

Lions and tigers (and even bears as we shall see later in this chapter) really can be quite a hazard for some humans in modern times. Cases of lions attacking humans for food have been recorded from all parts of Africa in which lions are found. The twentieth century has chronicled countless numbers of human mortalities inflicted by the king of beasts. One of the most extreme examples was the case of a single lion that killed 84 people in the vicinity of Ankole, Uganda, in the 1920s.

"Around Manyara Park [in Tanzania] lions have started to add man to their diet," wrote George Schaller in his 1972 monograph, The Serengeti Lion. Between 1969 and 1970, a young male lion injured or killed 6 people, both visitors and villagers. An associate wrote to Schaller, "Satima the young male [lion] among the Mahali pa Nyati pride has been shot when he was found eating another killed person near the park headquarters."

In the early 1990s, lions crossing over the Mozambique border into Tanzania's Tundara district killed 30 people in a twelve-month period. The "Man Eater of Mfuwe," a maneless male lion, was shot in 1991 near the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Having killed and eaten 6 people or more in 2 months, this lion's body was also given to permanent display at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Asiatic lions once roamed far and wide throughout the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. They now comprise a remnant population of 250 animals inhabiting the Gir Forest in India, strictly protected by the government in New Delhi. An uneasy truce exists between the human and leonine populations in the area. An intensive investigation by zoologists found that the Gir Forest lions attacked 193 humans in the 13 years between 1978 and 1991. One year there were 40 attacks, in other years there were as few as 7. Not all attacks were lethal, but an average of 2 or more lion-caused human deaths per year occurred during the time period under study.4

Tigers, needless to say, rest at the core of man-eating legends. Entire careers of British gentry were based on the removal of man-eating tigers from various Indian states. Jim Corbett, a post—World War I big-game hunter, dispatched the "Champawat Tigress" (436 human casualties— ranked as the premier man-eater in history) and the "Panar Leopard" (400 victims). Corbett subsequently wrote two volumes about his exploits with tigers hooked on human flesh. The books, Man-Eaters of Kumaon and The Temple Tiger and More Man-Eaters of Kumaon, are chock full of gory deaths and daring exploits. But his respectful admiration for the tiger is also apparent; he was likely one of the first Westerners to realize a need for conservation of Indian wildlife. To give him his due, he also stresses the quiet courage of Indian villagers who lose family and friends to the big cats; by the simple act of looking for a child who has not come home from an errand, a mother risks becoming another meal for a tiger.5

Man-eating tigers were rather uncommon in southern India during colonial times but always fairly prevalent in the north. As mentioned in the introductory chapter to this book, the Sundarbans area of India and Bangladesh remains a place where tiger predation is one of life's realities. The mangrove forests of the Sundarbans are also the biggest tiger reserve in the world. Devoid of permanent human habitation, the area still draws transient traffic in the form of honey gatherers, fishermen, and wood collectors. These are the usual victims of the tiger, so creative ways to offset human predation have emerged. One such method involves electrified mannequins artfully placed in boats. These dummies give out a terrific shock when touched. Conservationists hope that negative conditioning from lifelike dummies may be a key to teaching tigers and their offspring avoidance of such prey.6

The residents of the Sundarbans, and India in general, seem to be incredibly tolerant of the tiger. John Seidensticker, a Smithsonian Institution cat specialist, was permitted to carry out the non-lethal removal of a young male tiger who had killed a woman in a populated area near the Sundarbans. Local anger was high at the beginning of his project and there was a general call for the destruction of the cat, but publicity generated a dramatic shift toward interest in the fate of the tiger. (Seidensticker collected 81 articles in the English-language Indian newspapers alone.)When the young male tiger died after translocation efforts

These mannequins, which deliver a terrific electric shock when touched, are used to condition tigers to avoid humans in the Sundarbans, India. (Ragui Rai/Magnum)

(due to injuries from a resident male), there was sincere lament at the death of "Sundar."7

Despite the fact that this species has been responsible for more human deaths than any other wild cat, tigers actually seem to be less likely to seek out human prey than leopards or lions. They seldom penetrate human settlements or move out of their natural habitat to search for human prey. "Rather, humans are attacked on the tiger's own ground; and almost always during daylight. The person is rushed from behind at close quarters following a careful stalk, or they are ambushed at a place of the tiger's own choosing. Occasionally a person squatting or crouching in dense vegetation . . . may be eaten," noted tiger expert Charles McDougal of the Smithsonian Institution.8

The smaller leopard takes a toll of human victims far out of proportion to its size. "If the leopard were as big as the lion it would be ten times more dangerous," opined John Taylor, a big-game hunter of great fame. For several years around the turn of the twentieth century, a leopard haunted the Golis Range in Somalia and was reputed to have killed more than 100 people. One of the most notorious wild animals in the annals of world history was a leopard that terrorized pilgrims on their way to a Hindu shrine in the Himalayas in the 1920s. During an eight-year period this particular cat claimed 125 lives. Its exploits were followed with zeal by the British press as the leopard outwitted each plan devised to secure its capture. Finally, the same Jim Corbett of tiger fame dispatched the "best hated and most feared animal in all India." In the mid-1930s another leopard reportedly killed 67 people on the Zambezi River in eastern Zambia. And, a 1961 report told of an African leopard that snatched a baby lying on a rug while its mother was working in the fields; within a short time it had attacked another 5 adults.

Much more recently (1998) saw a front page article in India's TheWeek newspaper: "Killers on the prowl—leopards give nightmares to villagers even as authorities ponder how to tackle the menace" was the provocative lead-in. According to forest department officials, leopards killed 95 and wounded another 117 villagers in the Garhwal region of Uttar Pradesh, India, during the period 1988 to 1998. The perceptions of fatalities by villagers were higher; according to the reporter, locals estimated that 17 lives were taken by leopards each year over many decades.9 Leopard predilection for human flesh is also a subject worthy of academic study. One researcher stated that leopards continue to provoke predator-avoidance behaviors and to prey on humans in the savannas of eastern Africa and in the Ituri Forest of Central Africa. Research has provided information about the sex of 152 known man-eating leopards. Only 6% were females, but no one knows why males would be more likely to become man-eaters. Another study of 78 man-eating leopards found that the habitual predator on humans is typically a mature male leopard unafflicted by injuries.10

In the catalog of large cats, let's not forget the North American wild cat of many names—the cougar, mountain lion, puma, or American panther (the choice of name varies by region, but all refer to the same species, Felis concolor)—an animal that also gets into the headlines occasionally. The mountain lion is the single large wild cat that might be encountered in the United States north of the U.S.-Mexican border. As the suburbs encroach on wilderness in states like California and Colorado, mountain lion attacks on people increase. (There have only been 41 fatal attacks nationwide since American records were kept, but 10 of these have been since 1990.)

Of intense fascination to the U.S. media, these somewhat gruesome events are usually given excessive airtime. January 2004 was the latest well-covered mountain lion attack story. Newscasters reported on a cougar that dragged a woman off her bike in a wilderness area of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. National Public Radio, BBC Radio, CNN, and all the major networks and newspapers carried segments on prime-time news. What made this story so unique was the dramatic manner in which the attack and subsequent rescue unfolded. A mountain biker traveling with a companion was pulled from her bike by the big cat; her friend held onto the woman's legs while screaming for help. Another biker arrived at the scene; the new arrival hailed even more bicyclists who threw objects at the mountain lion until it loosened its grip on the woman's head and ran off. The woman who was attacked was critically injured, but a further surprising twist in this drama was an abandoned bicycle found by the side of the trail. It belonged to a man who was found 25 yards away—dead and partially consumed—allegedly the first casualty of the cougar.11

Hearing the newscasts and interviews, we thought it sounded like an unusually crowded wilderness area, which might somewhat account for the cat's aberrant behavior. Definitely, this cougar was not acting like a normal predator—he was killing and caching but not fully consuming prey (the outcome of which would be satiation and a cessation to hunting). Carnivores expend a great deal of energy pursuing prey and finishing it off—the point is to eat the food caught, not stash it away and immediately go out and expend more energy catching additional food. (The earlier report about the leopard in 1961 that devoured a baby and then immediately killed five more people conveys the same illogical behavior.) Was the constant traffic on the trail disrupting enough that the California mountain lion was unable to consume his first victim and got his predatory wires mixed? Were there two mountain lions involved?— highly unlikely in a solitary species, but possible during a mating episode.

We sincerely hope that cougar biologists will be called on to piece together the strange events of this mountain lion attack. Yes, cougars kill humans, but no wild cat kills just for the sake of killing. They kill to feed themselves. Hans Kruuk, the famous carnivore biologist, tackles the sub ject of surplus killing in his latest book, Hunter and Hunted: Relationships between Carnivores and People. Kruuk feels that all carnivores are capable of surplus killing under limited and "abnormal" conditions. Carnivores are hardwired to kill prey when the chance presents itself, and caching (storing food) may be connected to incidents of surplus killing. Most of the time in nature prey do not act passive nor are they confined (such as sheep in a corral), and densities of prey are not high enough for surplus killing.12

After two 2001 fatal mountain lion attacks in Montana and Colorado, a Colorado Springs wildlife officer remarked that one of the reasons people move to the Rocky Mountain region is to be near wildlife, but they choose to forget it is also choice habitat for the mountain lion. Seemingly simple things, like children riding bikes or adults jogging, may trigger predatory responses in big cats.13 Hans Kruuk discusses the complexity of carnivore reactions to prey:

Hunting itself is far from infallible, and many a time does the prey escape. But overall, the ability of carnivores to penetrate the defences of other animals, of many birds and all other land mammals, and to use them as their main resource is a wonderfully adapted set of behaviour patterns. . . . With the potential of such adaptation, it is not surprising that carnivores have also managed to exploit people as prey, vulnerable as we used to be and often still are.14

While modern humans suffer some predation from the remaining populations of the large cats, what the cat family represented to our ancient ancestors must have been another story entirely.

0 0

Post a comment