Tigers are the largest of the big cats. They are also critically endangered, with current wild tiger populations down to less than 4,000 worldwide. With so few tigers still in the wild, it’s easy to forget that for a long time, humans came into bloody conflict wherever tigers could be found. And the human body count was surprisingly high.
In fact, one of my favorite oddball facts to trot out is the number of deaths that can be attributed to tiger attacks. Sometimes, I’ll ask for people’s guesses, off the top of their head, of the number of people killed by wild tigers in the last 200 years or so. The responses range, some people will guess a handful, or a few hundred, up to a few thousand. An adventurous guesser might venture a number into the tens of thousands.
So, how many people have actually been killed by wild tigers since 1800 or so? 373,000.
I find that number mindboggling. That’s almost 2,000 people a year for 200 years, according to the authoritative reference Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics and Conservation of Panthera tigris.
Of course, not all reports of man-eating tigers are found in dry academic tomes. One of the more sensational accounts of killer tigers can be found in Man-Eaters of Kumaon, a memoir by “hunter-naturalist” Jim Corbett, filled with lurid descriptions of the author’s pursuit of man-eating tigers in India in the early 1900s. One such tale described the hunt for the Champawat Tiger, a female Bengal tiger responsible for killing 436 people before being killed in 1907.
In his latter years, Corbett became an outspoken advocate for the protection of India’s endangered species, especially the Bengal tiger. He helped establish India’s first national park and oldest nature reserve for the preservation of tigers, which was renamed Jim Corbett National Park, including the Corbett Tiger Reserve.
As one of the oldest tiger preserves in the world, Corbett Tiger Reserve now plays a critical role in ongoing efforts to save the Bengal tiger from extinction. Though tiger attacks in modern days are rare, reports of man-eating tigers still crop up from time to time.