Dr Ullas Karanth -The ecological history of Bandipur’s man-eater

The Bandipur man-eater finally captured on the 5th December. (c) Ullas Karanth/WCS
The Bandipur man-eater finally captured on the 5th December. (c) Ullas Karanth/WCS

The man-eating Tiger of Bandipur: An Ecological History

Long-term scientific research has revealed that the man-eating tiger captured by Karnataka Forest Department on 5 December 2013, after it had killed three human victims between November 27 and December 4, 2013 has an interesting ecological history. We have been studying the dynamics of the meta-population of tigers in Karnataka for over two decades. As a part of the study, we maintain a photographic database of tigers, which allows rapid retrieval and comparison of individual tiger images. Following the capture of the Bandipur man-eater, we have identified this individual male tiger as BPT-117.

This tiger was first camera trapped at Dodda Dasana Katte Road, Moleyur range, on 30 March 2004. From its size and appearance at that time, we assessed it to be about 3 years old. Subsequently, the tiger was camera-trapped 10 times, during 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2013. The last photographic capture was on 11 May 2013 on Sollegundi Road, Gundre Range. The Map 1.1 (attached) shows all locations where this tiger was camera trapped. The area over which the tiger was camera trapped is about 33 sq.km. From the locations of the recent human attacks, which are on the edges of this tigers’ range, it appears that this tiger was evicted from his range after May 2013, by a more vigorous rival. He was about 12 years old and in very poor nutritional condition now, besides having broken canine tooth (Image 3) and other injuries (as per media reports). Forced to the edges of the forest to survive, he was possibly compelled to kill livestock and, at some point sensing their vulnerability, attack 3 human victims.

Such deliberate stalking and killing of humans has been rare in this region, despite there being a large tiger population of 150 tigers. The last proven case of man-eating was that of our study animal, Tigress NHT-111 around Nagarahole in 2006. She was a 13-year old female who killed livestock, dogs and finally hunted down two humans.

Such man-eating or predation on humans is very rare, so the portrayal of all tigers as being aggressive to humans in general is not accurate at all. Most tiger attacks occur when cornered tigers are mobbed by uncontrollable crowds. This cannot be considered man-eating in any sense of the term.

The Bandipur man-eater captured on camera trap by WCS team. (c) Ullas Karanth/WCS
The Bandipur man-eater captured on camera trap by WCS team. (c) Ullas Karanth/WCS

Our research shows that the Bandipur-Nagarahole tiger population is at high densities of 10-15 tigers/100 sq. km. Because of high rates of reproduction, based on an abundant prey base, this population naturally has high mortality and losses amounting to 20% per year. This is a part of natural tiger population dynamics. Such mortalities are more likely among sub-adults trying to find new territories, and among old, weakened residents who are evicted from their home ranges. BPT-117 is one such old tiger evicted from its territory. It is clearly an animal that would not have lasted much longer in the wild, having reached almost the full lifespan of 12 years or so.

It is debatable whether the attempts to live-capture the animal rather than shoot it, after the second proven case of human predation in Bandipur was justified. Dozens of tigers, and, possibly even a larger number of leopards reach this stage in life in Karnataka every year and sometimes get into conflict situations. It may not be a practical long-term option to live-capture all of them or to house them in zoos beyond their maximum lifespan in the wild. Furthermore, the delay in addressing the threat of the man-eater did generate great anger among local people. This may undermine public support we need for conservation of tigers as a species.

All these issues should be carefully thought through now and a sound policy should be put in place before the passions aroused by this particular unfortunate incident are forgotten. We believe management decisions have to be rational and practical rather than based solely on emotions: either hatred or love for individual tigers.

Dr K. Ullas Karanth is Director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society in Bangalore.

Credits: Tiger Nation 



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