CONFLICTS BETWEEN MAN AND TIGER IN THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST
(first published in Russian in "Bulletin Moskovskogo obshchestva ispytateley
Prirody", 1993, v. 98, i. 3)
Igor G. Nikolaev and Victor G. Yudin
Russian Academy of Sciences Far Eastern Institute of Biology and Soils and Research Associates, Hornocker Wildlife Institute, Moscow Idaho
This work is devoted to one of the most critical problems of Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) conservation, that is, tiger - human relationships. The data were collected in Primorye between 1970 and 1996. Behavior of tigers changed with an increase in the tiger population that began in 1960s. Increased contacts with people and the result of human activity caused tigers to partially lose their fear of people, consequently resulting in more frequent conflicts. We present an analysis of 75 tigers deaths. 40% of tigers were killed in or near settlements. 32% were killed by poachers. The deaths of 28 % of animals were not human related. These data do not reflect the actual number of tiger deaths for the studied period: 10-15 adult tigers are killed annually, and in some years up to 30 tigers were killed, mostly illegally. Beginning in 1992 poaching became more common. For two winter seasons, 1991-92 and 1992-93 poachers killed nearly 70 tigers. The primary reason for increased smuggling was the new opportunity for smuggling skins, carcasses and other tiger parts to China, North and South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan. We analyzed sex, age, and physical conditions of 62 tiger carcasses for differences between animals in tigers killed due to interactions with humans and those that died from other causes. We also provide an analysis of tiger attacks on people and livestock. The deviant behavior of tigers that results in direct conflict with humans and livestock is mostly a result of previously inflicted wounds or inappropriate actions of the people.
Key words: Amur tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, depredation, Russia, Far East, mortality
Today there exists a completely different situation in the Russian Far East than was found by Kaplanov (1948), a half century when he initiated the first field research conducted on Amur tigers. Tiger numbers have increased substantially, and the animal's behavior has changed as well. Increased contact with man and man's activities has led to reduced fear on the part of the tiger, resulting in a growing number of conflicts that have been reported in numerous articles (Matyushkin 1973, Zhivotchenko 1976, Smirnov 1984). This study characterizes those tigers which took part in such conflicts, and sometimes were killed, and also analyses tiger attacks on people.
Information on interactions between man and tigers were collected in Primorski Region between 1970 and 1996. In all possible instances the circumstances surrounding tiger deaths (75), their attacks on men, or attacks on domestic animals were examined by visiting the place of occurrence. Tigers carcasses (62 in total), were examined to determine the cause of death; standardized measurements were taken. The age of tigers less than 1 year was determined from the condition of their milk teeth; tigers 1 year old and older were aged by counting cementum layers of the third incisor. To assess physical status and potential presence of diseases, veterinarians and legal medical experts were consulted. Where necessary we relied on materials provided by police investigations and eye witness reports of incidences. When snow was on the ground we used evidence from tracks to investigate the sequence of events associated with interactions.
Many examined tigers (30, or 40.0%) were killed in or near settlements (Tables 1-3). With few exceptions, these tigers attacked domestic animals. Poachers killed 24 (32.0%), while the rest (21, or 28.0%) appeared to be non human caused mortality. These data do not give a realistic picture of tiger mortality during the study period because each year 10-15 (and in some years up to 30) adult tigers are illegally killed, and not reported. Beginning in 1992 the rate of poaching increased dramatically. In two winter seasons (1991-92 and 1992-93) it is estimated that poachers killed 70 Amur tigers in the Russian Far East. The main reason for this surge was increased opportunities for smuggling tiger skins and bones into China, South Korea and Japan. Of all tiger carcasses examined (75), 56 were adults (74.7%) and 19 were young. Twice as many males were killed as females ((38, or 67.9%, versus 18, or 32.1% respectively), even though females are predominant in the wild Amur tiger population. Apparently, females are more cautions and tolerant than males, therefore reducing the number conflicts with man. In settlements they are killed 2.5-3 times less than males. Among the cubs reported killed, the sex ratio was about equal. Slightly less than half of the male tigers analyzed were considered in poor health or had incurred wounds (often from previous shootings), while only 25% of those females examined were considered in poor condition.
It is commonly believed that those animals who come into settlements and attack domestic animals are usually young dispersing animals aged 2-3 years, or old or physically disabled. In our study we did not find such a correlation: young tigers (2-4 years old) attacked domestic animals almost as often as adults (5 years and more). In general, of the tigers attacking domestic animals, females were on average older. There is also no difference in number of visits to settlements and attacks on domestic animals between visually healthy tigers and those starving or somehow injured. Only in winters of especially unfavorable conditions, such as lack of food and deep snow (for example 1984-85 and 1985-86), mostly disabled tigers come to settlements and are killed. Among tigers killed by poachers there are two times as many males as females and almost no injured or weak animals. Additionally, their average age was almost two years more than that of tigers killed in conflicts. Of the 21 tigers that died from non human causes, we were able to investigate 8 (5 males and 3 females) in greater detail. The circumstances of their deaths varied: 3 tigers died from wounds received in fights, one each with a bear, another tiger and a wild boar. Two died of diseases and one each died from poisoning and starvation. Cause of death for one animal was unknown. Most cubs (63%) died of starvation after losing their mother, or were killed by adult males (Table 3).
Prior to 1985 there were no known cases of cannibalism, but through the next seven years 3 such cases were reported involving 6 cubs killed by males. Cubs were killed were up to 6 months old, and some at even older ages. One of these occasions happened on February 26, 1988 in Partizanski District, and its circumstances were studied based on tracks left in the snow. A male tiger (front pad width 11 cm) killed and ate a relatively large male cub (front pad width 9 cm). The fight, which occurred on a road, was short, based on the number of tracks. The cub was killed near a tree at the side of the road with a fatal wound to the neck and front part of the body. The male carried the cub 27 m along the road and then dropped it. Then he moved it again for 240 m to the opposite side of the valley below some spruce trees, where he began to eat it. He left the cub's head, paws, tail, two gnawed shoulders, pieces of skin, fur, pelvis and leg bones. After being disturbed by people, the tiger carried some parts of the remains for a hundred meters to the steep left bank of the river. We cannot attribute this case of cannibalism to a lack of food, because in this area there was a high density of ungulates.
Cubs (mostly yearlings), as well as adults are killed in settlements when they seek food after losing their mother. Some are killed by poachers, and quite often they are trapped in leghold-steel traps set for fur bearing animals. Most situations that involve direct confrontation (such as attacks) were provoked by people. Small gauge bullets, buckshot and even small shot were often found lodged in tiger carcasses. Wounded (and often crippled) tigers become dangerous, as has been described many times (Zhivotchenko 1975, Matyushkin 1985). From all examined tigers, six adults had old wounds. In four cases they were wounded with small gauge bullets or buckshot. Wounds on four of these tigers were likely disabling, and prevented them from hunting ungulates. Of these six tigers, three were killed after aggressive actions and attempted attacks on people; one was killed after attacking and injuring a man; another was killed after an attack on domestic animals; and the last died from the original wounds. Not only are such animals likely to become involved in livestock depredations, they are also likely to hunt people. In many cases involving tiger depredations on domestic animals, conflicts likely wouldn't have occurred if people protected their animals properly. For instance, sometimes fences of deer parks are poorly maintained and predators can freely gain access to the enclosures. In another instance a tiger gained access through a hole in a barbed wire fence to a storehouse where dogs were used as watchdogs. Attracted by these dogs, a tiger entered the area three times in one evening before it actually ate one of the dogs and was then killed. Neither electric lights nor shooting in the air had any effect on the tiger in this case. Tigers also entered the Aleksandrov pig farm near Spassk quite easily through a fence that couldn't even stop pigs from leaving. As a result, about a dozen pigs were killed and a man was injured before the tiger was killed.
Concerning attacks on humans, during the whole study period we recorded only 9 situations in which 6 people were injured or killed. In six cases these attacks were provoked by people (in fact, such provocation probably occur more often), and three we concluded the attacks by tigers were unprovoked. In characterizing those tigers by sex, age and physical condition, we noted that all individuals (5 males and 3 females) except two were older than five years. Five of these tigers had serious injures, 2 had minor injuries, and only one had no identifiable disabilities. Not all instances in which a tiger charges a man can be considered attacks. Sometimes they are only "bluff charges", a demonstrative behavior intended to frighten. Such behavior was observed by a forest guard at Sikhote Alin Reserve (V. A. Voronin pers. comm.). However, usually people interpret these movements as attacks, and feel compelled to use firearms in self-defense. On two occasions detailed below it is likely there was no need to use firearms. In two other occasions the incidences occurred in settlements in association with an attack on domestic animals. One of the other incidences was provoked by a pursuit of a tiger that had been wounded by a bear, and the last one was a result of reckless shooting at a tiger who had just attacked a dog. This last incident was an especially interesting example of tiger behavior, and we therefore review it in detail. This incident occurred on April 7, 1984 near a border guard post near Tazgow Bay in Partizanski District. The attack occurred in the afternoon. After an unsuccessful rush at a watchdog, the tiger appeared ready to attack 2 guards. The guard with a gun shot 7 times at the tiger (they had a Kalashnikov gun with 8 cartridges), and the animal ran away wounded by a shot to the abdomen. The dog safely ran to the post. Both guards climbed an oak about 2 meters high (there were no higher trees in the immediate vicinity) and reported to the post on the radio, asking to put out an alarm for support. Suddenly the tiger appeared again and rushed to the tree where the two guards were waiting. The last shot fired by the guard hit it the animal in the neck when the tiger was near the tree, but the tiger reached up and pulled him to the ground by the leg. The other guard was unarmed and could not help. The tiger seemed paralyzed after the last shot and lay on its side, holding the man's hand in its mouth for about 10 minutes until the support group arrived. When the other man tried to move closer to help, the tiger started to gnaw its captive's hand. The support group killed the tiger, and the injured guard was taken to hospital. The autopsy showed that the tiger had been wounded with buckshot twice: once under its skin on the left side, and a second time near a joint in the left leg. The wound was infected, and the animal's stomach was empty.
Unprovoked assaults on man occur very rarely. We have confirmed two such cases in which the the victims survived and 4 instances in which people were killed (instances in which people died will be described later). The second such incident occurred on January 23, 1982, 3 km from the village of Novo-Gordeevka in Anuchin District. A hunter was attacked while he was collecting his leghold traps during daylight hours. The tragedy took place on the bank of a small river, where a tiger came down from the slope of a hill. Having come down the valley about half a kilometer at a usual pace, the tiger suddenly ran in small careful steps (30-40 cm). At this point, about 230 m away from the hunter, the tiger probably heard the metallic sound coming from leg-traps which the hunter was closing and removing. In the next 130 m the tiger alternately changed from small to normal steps, and from normal to fast steps. At the end of this pattern, the tigers path lay along an abandoned road. At this point the tiger turned sharply in the direction of the hunter, the distance between them being 118 m. Having traveled one third the distance at a normal pace, the tiger changed to a fast pace (length of step 125 cm), then made three jumps, and before attacking moved 18 m at a normal pace. The tiger started the rush 27 m from the hunter. After running 15 m, the predator suddenly changed its direction and jumped aside (as it reacted to the man's shout), but at once it turned back and continued the attack. This time the tiger pursued the hunter as if he were a prey (the hunter was climbing a tree on the opposite side of the river on top the steep bank). The tiger covered the last 15 m in seven jumps, and pulled the man down from the tree with its right paw. Scratches from the left paw were left on the tree's trunk, some 75 cm long. The highest scratch was two meters high. The tiger clutched the hunter by his left shoulder. The hunter had a knife, and managed to stab the animal on its front paw (he was without a gun). The wound was not very deep as the knife just slid along the skin. Nonetheless, the tiger left the man at once and in long strides started away. Running 34 m away, the tiger changed to small steps, and after another 4 m stopped, turning towards the hunter. At this spot a hole in snow made by dripping blood from the paw was found. Another shout by the hunter made the animal move again. Running about 12 m in large steps, the predator lay down near a Korean pine tree, its head towards the man. There it left another blood stain. Probably seeing that the man was leaving (as he really was at that moment), the tiger ran after him, the first 30 m in jumps (averaging 3 m long, compared to 2.2 m in the first attempt), and the next 15 m at a usual pace. In the last interval (21 m) to the path where the man had just walked the tiger traveled switching from jumps to a fast run. It stopped by the path, stayed for a while, and returned to its previous bed. Then the tiger abruptly followed after the man again, but this time by a different route. Covering about 70 m in usual steps and 20 m more at a fast run (steps about 120 cm), it then switched to a walk after about 95 m. The tiger walked after the man, following his footprints. After 560 m, coming to a tractor trail, the paths of the two diverged: the tiger continued down the tractor trail, while the man walked straight ahead, coming to a highway after 400 m, where a passing car picked him up. The tiger walked about 200 m along the trail, rolled in snow, turned back about 60 m back, then turned to the highway and walked parallel to the man's path. It moved carefully, stopping now and then and shifting its pace. It crossed the highway 130 m away from the point where the man did. Then it made a short loop, returning to the highway again (Fig. 1). Analyzing this tiger's conduct based on tracks in the snow, and information provided by the man, it appeared that the tiger was hesitant in its actions. Such hesitancy is indicated by the animal's reaction to the man's shout, the character of its jumps during the attack, and the way it attacked and pursued the man. We believe that the final attack on the man would not have occurred if he had remained standing and had not tried to climb a tree. These actions provoked the tiger. The man survived the incident but incurred serious injuries (his collarbone was broken, his arm was disjointed, and there were punctures in his shoulder and arm). The tiger spent a few days after the attack near the villages of Novo-Gordeevka and Tayozhka (while the local administration decided upon the appropriate action and received permission to shoot the tiger), and entering the settlements to kill two dogs. The tiger selected such prey despite the fact that there were sufficient wild prey in the forest nearby - tracks of wild boar and roe deer were common. It was successful in catching and eating one small boar. The tiger was killed ten days after attacking the hunter. It was possible to determine that the tiger was one and the same based on the knife wounds found on the paw of the body. The animal was a young male 2.5 - 3 years old with low fat reserves. There were bald spots on its legs, which was evidently dermatitis. There were no other disabilities found. Stomach contents included (in the order consumption): a dog, a young wild boar, a dog and a domestic kitten. A piece of rubber hose 3 cm long probably got into the stomach by chance.
The other case of an unprovoked assault took place on April 28, 1985 in the Tcheruhe (Tesnaya) river basin in Khasan District, near a border guard post. The object of attack was a patrol group, which was moving at night in chest high grasses. The man in front looked back after hearing a noise and saw an animal rushing at him out of the dark. Moving backwards, the man stumbled and fell down into a pit, covering himself with his left hand. In springing the tiger overshot the man, landing in the same pit, but further on. In landing it actually stepped on the man's breast. The tiger turned in the direction of the people and growled. The second guard fired his gun and killed the tiger. The guard who was rushed by the tiger was scratched on the back side his left hand, but said that falling down into the pit saved his life. The tiger was a big male 5.5-6 years old with average fat reserves and had an old serious injury - its front right leg was particularly without a paw. Its stomach contained bones and meat of a wild boar piglet and also pieces of the piglet's skin as large as 30 x 30 cm.
Another incident which occurred on November 17, 1982 near the village of Gorny Khutor in Chernigovski District is likely an example of a tiger mistaking a person for potential prey. A hunter was stalking wild boar by hiding in some hazelnut. Upon hearing some noise to the right, he stood up and saw a tiger rushing at him 12 m away. At the same time the animal also saw the man and landed with all four feet in the leaf litter, trying to slow down and turn right. However, inertia pulled the tiger 2-3 m closer to the hunter, bringing him to within nearly 8 m. This momentary hesitation provided sufficient time for the hunter to get prepared and shoot the tiger. After the shot the tiger ran off, and the hunter sat in a tree for four hours until his comrade came. The shot proved to be fatal (a bullet from the carbine "Los" broke a left lower canine and entered the animal's chest cavity), though the tiger ran about 180 m afterwards in a bowing trajectory. It was a seemingly healthy female with two cubs. It was killed after mistaking the man for a wild boar - they were apparently hunting the same boar herd.
We know of only four cases where a tiger attacked people as if they were prey. One of them occurred on February 18 1976 near the village of Lazo in Lazovski district. A tiger killed a tractor driver near his tractor and ate some of the corpse (Zhivotchenko 1976). The second incident occurred in mid-February 1992. A hunter was attacked in his hunting unit in the Samarga Basin near the village Unty in Terney District. The tragedy took place during the day as the hunter carried a light shotgun while walking his trap-line closing traps. As shown by tracks in the snow, the tiger followed the hunter for a rather long time, them made a loop and lay down ahead of the hunter. The predator threw itself on the hunter's back, making only three jumps. The attack was so sudden the hunter had no chance to defend himself. The body was eaten almost completely. Presumably, the tiger had been leg-trapped and shot at before. On the evening before this occasion the tiger had killed the hunter's dog right near his winter cabin. The third case, analogous to the previous, happened not long ago on February 15, 1994 in the Kolumbe River Basin 50 km from village Melnichnoye in Krasnoarmeyski District. A hunter was attacked during daylight hours while closing his traps. With a detailed investigation of prints and a report from one of the hunter's associates we were able to reconstruct the event. Ten meters to the left of the hunter's trail there was a typical tiger bed under the roots of a fallen tree. Letting the hunter pass by, the tiger rushed him when he stopped near the tree. The hunter's mittens laid in the snow in this place as well as his "Belka" (squirrel) gun, which was cocked to fire from its upper barrel, i.e. the barrel with a small caliber 5.6 mm bullet. Possibly the hunter had stopped to shoot a squirrel. Rushing from its bed the tiger first ran first 5-6 m in a trot and the last 10 m in bounds. It attacked from behind and to the side. The man was killed in the tiger's fourth bound, and had no time even to jump behind a tree. From the kill site the tiger carried its prey 30 m to some spruce trees. One-quarter of this distance it carried the man in its mouth, holding him up from the ground, as determined from the snow trail and stains of blood found 77 cm high on a tree trunk. The man's corpse was eaten fully by the second time the tiger came to its prey. The last attack occurred in January 1996 in the outskirts of Partizansk. The man would have been eaten entirely if the tiger was not shot.
In conclusion any deviations in a tiger's normal behavior when encountering people or domestic animals are usually caused by previously incurred wounds, or by people's inappropriate actions in a given situation. It is worth noting that it is usually armed people who are attacked. Weapons enable a person to defend himself, and to attack, but inaccurate shooting in such quickly developing situations usually results in a wounded animal that will attack. Since the beginning of the 1980s in Primorski Region there have been hundreds of encounters between people and tigers each year, and they would all end peacefully if people were unarmed. With this knowledge it can be concluded that there are no man-eaters in the Amur tiger population. In the three recorded man-eating cases the exact causes are still unknown, because those tigers were not killed and their physical status is unknown. Nonetheless, there have been no reports of repeated attacks by these tigers. However, there is no doubt that tigers which poise threats to people must be removed from nature. We should not idealize the tiger, which is a strong and aggressive predator, but we cannot justify violence against it, which, unfortunately, is common among local people. The damage caused by this predator to domestic animals is mainly a result of anthropogenic interference into natural ecosystems, which destroys the traditional food chains.
Kaplanov, L. G. 1948. The tiger in Sikhote-Alin. In Tiger, elk, and moose. Moscow.
Matyushkin, E. N. 1973. Tigers and people - problematic neighbors. Priroda 12.
Matyushkin, E. N. 1985. Securing the future of the tiger. Okhota and Okot. Khoz-vo. 9.
Smirnov, E. N. 1984. On the tracks of the tiger. People and Nature 11
Zhivotchenko, V. E. 1976. The Amur tiger. Okhota and Okot. Khoz-vo. 7.
Conflicts between humans and Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) have been reported in the Russian Far East since the first Russian settlements in the region (Baikov 1925, Sowerby 1923, Arseniev 19XX). To better understand the prevalence of interactions and the circumstances surrounding interactions, data on man-tiger relations were gathered in Primorski Krai (Province) between 1970 through 1996. Because tigers are often killed when they negatively impact humans or human resources, we investigated the circumstances associated with recorded deaths of tigers.
Baikov, 1923. The Manchurian tiger.
Sowerby, A naturalist in Manchuria.
Table 1. Location, physical status, size and circumstances of deaths of Amur tiger males in the Russian Far East, 1970-1994.
Table 2. Location, physical status, size and circumstances of deaths of Amur tiger females in the Russian Far East, 1970-1994.
Table 3. Location, physical status, size and circumstances of deaths of Amur tiger cubs in the Russian Far East, 1970-1994.