Chances are that you, like most people, tend to go for a swim in the ocean with no small amount of trepidation. You’ve seen Jaws, you know what’s out there, lurking and waiting, possibly hungry and with an eye on you right now. The fact that you typically can’t see more than a few inches in turbulent seawater doesn’t really help matters any, so you decide to stick to the shallows- except the shallows is where most shark attacks happen. Yet while you’re afraid of being eaten by a shark, what you should really be afraid of is tigers.
Sharks kill on average 5 whole people a year, that’s such a pathetic figure that we haven’t researched it, but we’re pretty sure more people die every year from sneezing to death than shark attacks. Despite these paltry numbers, there’s likely not a single day you’ve been to the beach that you haven’t eyed the waters warily, and with no small amount of trepidation for the ancient, prehistoric, cold-blooded killer that could be lurking beneath the waves right now. While sharks are putting up rookie numbers though, Tigers are the Lebron James of animal fatalities, putting up real pro numbers on the board. On average, 85 people a year are killed or injured by tigers, and most of those fatalities occur in India. Thanks to a massively successful conservation effort, tiger numbers have rebounded from near-extinction, and tigers decided to say thank you by doing what tigers have done for hundreds of thousands of years: eating people. We’d be mad, but then again it was us that drove them to almost being extinct in the first place, so fair is fair we suppose. Yet today’s tigers are nothing compared to the tigers of yesteryear, and in at least once case your granddad may have been right: things really were tougher in his time.
That would be thanks to one particular tiger who stalked Nepal in 1903. Named the Champawat Tiger, which we assume is ancient Nepalese for Destroyer of Man, this tiger got a taste for man-flesh in 1903 and decided that we made for better hunting, and eating than swift, agile deer. This tigress began making a regular meal out of local villagers, eating men, women, and children. Locals became so terrified that many refused to enter the jungle unless in large groups, and even this tactic wasn’t always successful as she learned to strike when individuals would wander away from the group, then drag her victim silently back into the jungle to feast. Villagers grew so terrified of the tigress that the government called up some of the best hunters in the land and sent them after her. The tigress managed to avoid all of their efforts and continued to kill, racking up an impressive kill count of 200 people. Eventually, the situation got so bad that the Nepalese army was called in to try and deal with the ferocious tiger, and even they would not prove to be enough to capture or kill her. She managed to avoid hundreds of armed soldiers, though at least she stopped killing villagers during the massive hunt. Unable to destroy her, the Nepalese army simply formed a massive line of soldiers and pushed through the thick jungle, forcing the tiger out of Nepal and into India. Having the tiger killing Indian villagers instead of Nepalese villagers was basically a good enough outcome for Nepal’s government, and they called their forces off. As far as Nepal was concerned, she was India’s problem now. In a turn of the century India and Africa, man-eating animals were basically par for the course, and thus legendary hunters opportunity to track down and destroy man-eaters. One of these hunters was Colonel James Corbett, a British hunter of Irish descent who operated inside of colonial India. When the tigress began to snack on Indian villagers, Colonel Corbett was immediately called up and asked to track and kill the man-eating tiger. He agreed, but only on two conditions- that all government rewards for the killing of the tiger be cancelled, and that other hunters employed by the government be recalled. Corbett’s reasoning was simple, as long as a large bounty remained on the tigress’ head, and other hunters prowled the deep jungle, then he ran a high risk of being accidentally shot. Corbett also feared however that non-offending tiger would be destroyed in the public frenzy to find the one tigress responsible for the constant killing. The government quickly agreed to his terms and in 1907 Corbett began his legendary hunt for the world’s deadliest tiger. Female Bengal tigers weigh on average about 300 pounds and are eight feet long from head to tail. When hunting the single deadliest tiger to ever stalk humans, you’d think that Corbett would have equipped himself with perhaps a suit of T-45 power armour, or at minimum a tactical nuclear weapon or two- but instead Corbett took off into the deep jungle armed with nothing more than his trusty rifle and a proper, gloriously British moustache.
Corbett tracked the tiger down to a village named Champawat, where he discovered that the locals had fortified themselves at home. Tiger roars had been heard in the jungle and by now the tigress’ reputation was so fierce, that nobody dared to leave home unless absolutely necessary. Some of the people had not left home for nearly a week. Soon after his arrival though, the tigress struck again, this time killing a sixteen-year-old girl and dragging her lifeless body into the jungle to feed. This proved to be the last mistake the tigress would ever make though, as she left behind tracks which were easy for Corbett to track and follow. Splashes of blood from the victim also helped mark the tiger’s path. After a few hours of tracking, Corbett ran straight into the tigress, interrupting her feasting, and the two immediately engaged in a duel to the death. The tigress leapt and lashed out with her razor-sharp claws, while Corbett deftly parried with his hunting rifle and counter-attacked. Man and beast danced and weaved around each other in a deadly dance of death, claws and blades flashing, lashing out at each other, seeking an opening to land a mortal strike. Just kidding, Corbett pretty much just shot the tigress in the face, because that’s how guns work, and just like that the reign of one of the deadliest tigers in history was over. Authorities would estimate that the Champawat tiger had killed and eaten 436 people during her four-year reign of terror, but this might be an inaccurate number as in turn-of-the-century India, tigers pretty regularly made a snack out of people. This means some of the kills attributed to the Champawat tiger may have been committed by other tigers.
Before he launched his hunt for the tigress, Corbett had a theory though on why this particular tiger had taken to eating people. Believe it or not, people are not a regular diet item for tigers, which is kind of surprising because we are really just the worst at defending ourselves in the wild unless we have guns. While other animals have sharp claws, quills, spikes, fangs, or are really fast and agile, we pretty much got the short end of the stick when it comes to natural weapons. You’d think that at some point tigers would’ve figured out that we’re basically the popcorn shrimp of the wild kingdom, and make for really easy prey. So if we aren’t a normal part of a tiger’s diet, Corbett reasoned that the tigress was likely under a large amount of stress which forced her to change her eating habits. Perhaps prey was in short supply, and so she turned to eat humans- if that were true then though she would’ve resumed eating wild prey when forced across the border from Nepal. Thus Corbett reasoned that the tigress probably suffered from some sort of debilitating injury which left her unable to hunt wild game- that’s right, humans are such pathetic creatures that when a tiger is too injured to hunt real prey, they turn to us instead. As we said, humans are basically the popcorn shrimp of the animal kingdom. Sure enough, after killing her Corbett discovered that the legendary Champawat tiger’s fangs were broken. She had likely suffered from some periodontal disease and then struggled with prey, or perhaps was simply getting along in years and shattered several of her sharpened fangs. Unable to deliver quick and efficient killing blows, the tigress turned to humans, since you really don’t need to do much to kill a human being. Corbett would go on to continue his career tracking down man-killing beasts, ending his career as a hunter after taking down the Bachelor of Powalgarh, which is not a terrible reality show and was in fact one of the largest tigers ever recorded. Perhaps reflecting on the killing of such a magnificent animal, Corbett turned conservationist and helped establish India’s first national park. He would die in 1955, and the park that he founded would be named after him: the Jim Corbett National Park. Today tigers still like to occasionally snack on humans, and in the late 1980s people living in the Ganges delta in India discovered a surprising way to drastically reduce the number of tiger attacks on villagers. The men of the delta regularly had to trek through marshy swampland to various job sites, and these were prime hunting grounds for tigers. The tigers, who are ambush predators, could find perfect concealment in the tall grass, and if you’ve ever seen the Jurassic Park 2 scene where the raptors attacked in the tall grass, then you can pretty accurately picture what would regularly happen to villagers. 60 people would die a year from tiger attacks in this one area alone- until people started getting into the tiger’s head. Recognizing that tigers are ambush predators, the villagers began to wear Halloween masks on their heads backwards. The pair of eyes on the back of their heads would fool the tigers into thinking that they were being watched, and didn’t have the element of surprise. As insane as this sounds, the tactic worked, and tiger attacks dropped off steeply in the following months. Today the tactic is still used in many places in India, and it turns out that for all their ferocity, Tigers have a bit of a self-esteem problem. If they think they can’t get the jump on a prey item, then they simply won’t even try. For us, we’re just grateful that tigers have low self-esteem and don’t realize that whether we see them coming or not, humans could do literally nothing to stop a tiger attack. Because once more, we’re basically the popcorn shrimp of the animal kingdom. The Champawat tiger may be the pound for pound champ of man-eaters, but there have been quite a few other famous human hunters that have given her a run for her money. There were the man-eating lions of Kenya who made meals of 135 people, the leopard of India’s central provinces who took down 150, and who could forget Gustave, the famed 18 foot (5.5 meters), 2,000 pounds (900 kg) crocodile of Burundi who is estimated to have eaten over 300 humans! And while just like the Champawat tiger, all of their kill counts are rough estimates at best, it just goes to show you that humans often aren’t the apex predator of their environment. How would you try to protect yourself from a tiger attack? Would you have tried to hunt down the Champawat tiger?! And which famed maneater would you want to hear about next? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video then don’t forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe before a tiger eats you.