Dangerous Cats

Fact: Lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars are responsible for most attacks on human beings.

In the last couple of years there have been some high-profile big-cat attacks in Beijing and Nairobi.

These grisly events probably got worldwide attention because they were unusual – big cats and major cities are generally two separate news beats. Also, the woman who survived the Beijing tiger attack has filed a lawsuit for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, big-cat attacks are just as grisly elsewhere – but much more common.

One such danger zone is in India near the Nepal border, where electricity isn’t available at night.

Overnight, wolves and leopards move in to carry off the children – a hundred were lost to wolves between 2001 and 2003, and six to leopards during a six-month period in 2013-2014. (Srivastava)

Many readers just checked on their kids.

You can relax some, if you live in Europe or almost anywhere in North America. The only common “big” cat here is the cougar, and it is very good at avoiding us.

All cats prefer natural prey. The problems usually start from a surprise encounter; or when prey numbers drop; or when the cat(s) are injured or displaced from their normal range. (Loveridge and others)

As for cougars, in the US and Canada 10 people have died in a total of 73 attacks between 1991 and 2003. (Chester)

That’s ten fatalities and seventy-three attacks too many, but dogs kill more people than that each year. And, globally, you’re more likely to die in a traffic accident than in a big-cat attack. (Chester; Loveridge and others)

This isn’t much comfort to people in some parts of lion/tiger/leopard country.

Sometimes the maneater may be just one problem animal.  For example, a major Bollywood filming site near Mumbai is closed right now because a leopard recently began attacking people in the area. (Chatterjee)

It can also be a situational thing.

In Tanzania, where lions have killed hundreds of people and injured hundreds more, their typical prey – hoofed plant eaters – are in decline. The lions have shifted over to bush pigs, which often come in close to human settlements. (Loveridge and others)

The rest is tragedy.

The highest risk of an attack in Tanzania is during the harvest, but you don’t go out at night around full moon time, either. Research does show that lions use moonlight to hunt. (Packer and others, 2005, 2011).

Are big cats stalking us or is it a surprise on both sides?

Accidental encounters probably account for many big-cat attacks, but in the Sundarbans, at least, some Bengal tigers are stalkers. Tigers killed 294 Indians there between 1984 and 2001. Another 79 people died in the Bangladesh Sundarbans between 2002 and 2007. (Loveridge and others)

Tigers and other big cats are at risk of extinction today. Yet in many places, not just the Sundarbans, it’s very hard to manage things so that both cats and people can live and thrive.

Somehow, for everybody’s sake, we must find a way to do exactly that.

Featured image: Lioness stalking prey on Kenya’s Maasai Mara, by Lip Kee. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Chatterjee, B. Leopard attacks in Mumbai: Forest department imposes indefinite ban on shooting in Film City. Hindustan Times. August 9, 2017, 19:21 IST. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/leopard-attacks-in-mumbai-forest-department-imposes-indefinite-ban-on-shooting-in-film-city/story-TPwYOPvj7f6FT4i9mCY0xN.html Last accessed September 3, 2017.

Chester, T. 2006. Mountain lion attacks on people in the U.S.A. and Canada. http://www.tchester.org/sgm/lists/lion_attacks.html#stats Last accessed August 10, 2017.

Loveridge, A. J.; Wang, S. W.; Frank, L. G.; and Seidensticker, J. 2010. People and wild felids: conservation of cats and management of conflicts, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 161-195. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murphy, T., and Macdonald, D. W. 2010. Pumas and people: lessons in the landscape of tolerance from a widely distributed felid, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 431-451. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Packer, C.; Ikanda, D.; Kissui, B.; andKushnir, H. 2005. Conservation biology: lion attacks on humans in Tanzania. Nature. 436(7053):927-928. Abstract only.

Packer, D.; Swanson, A.; Ikanda, D.; and Kushnir, H. 2011. Fear of darkness, the full moon, and the nocturnal ecology of African lions. PLoS ONE. 6(7):e22285.

Srivastava, N. April 3, 2014. Why leopard attacks have become an election issue in India. BBC Hindi, Uttar Pradesh. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-26815191 Last accessed September 3, 2017.


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