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Man-Eating Behavior among Big Cats

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Talking about man-eating big cats people usually make a big myth out of something that in fact just appears natural, when the lifestyle, behavior and physiology of representants in the panthera genus are interpreted correctly. Lions, Tigers, Leopards and Jaguars belong as almost all predators to the most intelligent (better said to the "superintelligent") of all animals, that due to the fact that they have to perform great adaptivity to various different situations in their life. All hunting cats perform is learned behavior, which they either did learn by trial (success and failure) or by imitating their parents. The hunting on different prey requires different tactics, and, considering the weight, weapons and power of game that belongs to a big cat's prey, it becomes clear how important it is for them to set perfectly adapted hunting-behavior into practice. When usual prey of big cats gets scarce or too dangerous for them to hunt, they are forced to find alternatives as food resources in order to survive, and that leads often to a shift in prey preference. Man-eaters are in fact, even though it doesn't belong to regular behavior of big cats or other predators, much more common than one might think, and therefore outrunning the myth mankind is making around them. Probably the most famous man-eaters in history are the two maneless male lions of Tsavo back in 1898, which terrorized, systematically hunted, killed and devoured railroad workers without themselves being captured and shot over a timespan of 9 months, claiming at least 135 victims until Colonel John H. Patterson finally managed to shoot them and to end the terror by that. Being such a big event in political and human history, the story of the lions and the British railroad of Tsavo captured interest and fascination of people all around the world, apparently whitewashing the fact that many smaller man-eating cases were (and are being) well documented during the past 100 years. Before we now assume that all cats attacking or hurting humans are man-eaters, we've to define what exactly we're talking about. Humans quite often get injured by predators without any intention of killing and eating provided, mostly happening through careless acting of man himself towards the animal, which then understandably takes a defensive position and makes use of its weapons. The defensive reaction of an animal comes by instinct and has therefore absolutely no connection to intended man-eating. Man-eaters often prove great knowledge about how humans have to be hunted, which is coming from their need of learning how to prey on a specific species. While incidents that happen without any intention can't be considered being man-eating, they may be describing one of the opportunities that got the predator onto the path of it, to which again count many more factors that make it happening.

© Sep 6, 2007 Markus Fumagalli

www.terrasco.net

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Man-Eating Behavior among Big Cats

Contents 1. Rivalry Since More Than 1.8 Million Years: 2. Why do They Kill and Eat Humans? 3. Parental Teaching: 4. Scavenging on Human Corpses: 5. Infirmity and Old Age of Big Cats: 6. Prey Availability: 7. Ecological Crises: 8. Human Naivety and Animal Intellect: 9. The Summary of Causes: 10. Reference & Links: page page page page page page page page page page 2 3 4 5 5 7 7 8 8 9

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1. "Rivalry Since More Than 1.8 Million Years" Man and pantherinae were (at least in the wild) enemies since ever they came into contact with each other. The late ancestors of the genus homo aswell as the genus itself in its early development stage acted mostly as meat robber to lions, by using two of the biggest advantages the human body provides: agility and endurance. While cats are physiologically unbalanced creatures, they are much better hunters than humans because of their strength, weapons and robust anatomy. But all that has its price, which we still can see today when big cats hunt, since there hasn't much changed in the cat's concept during the past million years. When lions hunt, they carefully chose their target (possibly the weakest of all targets), tackle it and bring it to fall. After that they fix it to ground that it can't stand up and flee, often without killing it yet â" since they need to recover after the attack. When they're done with that they suffocate their prey by a throat-bite. After a hunt big cats are completely exhausted, and that's where man came into the scene in his early history: unable to hunt large game themselves by not meeting the natural requirements for doing so, humans had to steal the meat of others. Agility and endurance * allowed humans to do so, right when the lions had to recover, and eventhough this may often have caused loss of members, it was a risk worth it that assured them a healthy population [Goodall, Reichholf] and allowed the evolution of humans to turn us into what we are today. * humans evolved unlike cats into enduring runners, supported by one of the most efficient cooling systems known (sweating to cool down blood vessels close to skins surface), while cats developed the ability to set free an immense power all at once. Regarding this connection it may become clear that there exists no behavioral reason for pantherines not to attack humans, since they had to protect their kills or even themselves against representants of the "human tree" since ever that tree exists.

© Sep 6, 2007 Markus Fumagalli

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Man-Eating Behavior among Big Cats

2. "Why do They Kill and Eat Humans?"

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As mentioned in the introduction, any hunting big cats perform is learned behavior. They hunt what they consider adequate prey and what they've learned to hunt. So the main question would be 'when' they start to consider a species being adequate prey and/or 'when' they learn to hunt on it. Most big cats never threaten a human during their lives, in fact many of them literally avoid contact with man whenever possible. At this point I'd like to quote an excerpt of Bruce D. Pattersons (no relation to Colonel Patterson) "The Lions of Tsavo": "One of my favorite quotes, mainly for its ridiculous and anachronistic subjectivity, is the following. In his report on the first zoological expedition to Africa sponsored by a North American museum, the Field Museum's 1896 expedition to British Somaliland, Daniel Giraud Elliot said, 'Judging from our experience with them, [lions] are most cowardly in disposition , and avoid man's presence whenever possible. Of course, if wounded and surrounded so that escape seems impossible, the Somali lion will show fight, as any other animal will, even a rat, but his principal idea seem to be when followed to put as much ground between himself and his pursuers as possible' (1897). Martin Johnson, who spent years in the bush in East Africa, said, 'It is only fair to add, however, that even at this time I was not afraid of being eaten by a lion. The belief that a lion is a man-eater is generally incorrect. Lions enjoy zebra and giraffe meat best of all; human flesh does not generally appeal to them. In my six years' residence in Africa in lion country I have never been able to trace an authentic case of man-eating lion. Often I have heard of them; but, when I run the facts to earth they always turn out to be nothing more than wild rumor.' (1928). While his statement generally is true, and his perspective useful,man-eating lions are well documented, and the ensuing discussion focuses on these." Reasons for this aversion against humans may well be trophy hunting and poaching, teaching the lions how dangerous and incalculable mankind can be, as reports of maneating incidents evidently occur less often in regions they're regularly being hunted by man. In lions, as Patterson states, man-eating becomes very quickly a habit, a "way of life". Just as they fix to targets of preferred game normally, they begin to consider humans being usual prey once they learned to hunt on them. Connected to this is the matter of how easy it is to tackle prey and how dangerous it is to encounter it. Being held away from humans by the big loss they can cause, lions hardly even get the chance to think about charging one of them, and therefore the opportunity to get a taste for human meat and a primary experience for hunting humans would be lacking. So the key to the man-eating career of big cats may lie in the opportunity to kill or eat a human. Another quote Patterson points out in his account about the lions of Tsavo, this time of John Hunter, subscribes to the view that accidents may lead to man-eating

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behavior: "In trying to get at the cattle, the lion may kill a herdsmen, just as he would knock down any obstruction that stood in his way. If for some reason the cattle then managed to escape, the lion may return to his kill and begin feeding. This combination of circumstances is rare, but when it occurs the lion almost invariably becomes a maneater. However, once a lion definitely acquires a liking for human meat, he will go the most amazing length to satisfy his carving. I have even known confirmed man-eaters to charge through a herd of cattle to get at the herdsmen." I find this statement interesting, not only because of the fact that the opportunity makes it, I love it because it perfectly shows the conclusion a lion automatically makes by such an event and then uses to identify and trace possible prey: "cattle => humans". Human naivety (concerning intelligent predators) often causes tragedy in the wild, because inexperienced humans don't expect animals doing such conclusions (regarding the fact how unsafe the camps of Patterson's railroad workers were set up, close to the tracks). However, the opportunity alone cannot explain man-eating behavior of predators. There are various reasons why it comes to this opportunity, and a single source cannot be named. Old age, infirmity, shortage of usual prey, scavenging and parental teaching are a few that are connected to it.

3. "Parental Teaching" First of all I want to involve the "parental teaching" factor, which is an important matter when we want to avoid an outbreak of man-eating among predators that are physically and anatomically all above our own abilities. Big cats do their first hunting experiences together with their mother. By imitating her, they improve hunting skills and learn how to properly hunt certain species... and after all... what adequate prey is. One can imagine that a cub that is born into a man-eating family will by no means see a problem in killing humans and will be trained into the perfect human-killer. "During his service as animal control officer, Njuguma shot hundrets of hyenas and lions that had become emboldened by this habit [man-eating] and attacked or threatened persons living in the area [Kenya]. On one occasion, he witnessed a lioness and her cubs approaching a small occupied hut; at the time, he was convinced that the lioness was teaching her cubs the art of hut-bound humans, and dispatched them before they entered the hut." (Patterson, "The Lions of Tsavo") It is known that tigers, when forced to feed their young while usual prey isn't available, may switch to "human" prey. By that the mother isn't only feeding her cubs with human meat, she also begins to teach them how to dispatch the people. That way man-eating

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habit finds its place in whole tiger families or lion prides, and it appears logical that such a group needs to be eliminated immediately, in order to avoid long-time tragedies that may occur otherwise. Paradoxically, the elimination of man-eating prides or families (which actually show nothing different than natural behavior) is probably the only more or less acceptable solution to protect pantherines in their areas. Man-eating causes terror and fear among humans, two things no human likes, and understandably man takes action against it (who wouldn't?). If such a behavior among predators is persistent, it's only a question of time until people will actively drive these cats to extinction, in order to have a safe and easy life themselves (a practice that made wolves and bears extinct in many European areas during the past few 150 years).

4. "Scavenging on Human Corpses" One of the most dangerous cases is when predators persistently get the chance to scavenge on human bodies and therefore begin to associate humans with their meals and get a taste for human flesh. It's an effect that often takes place in ecological disasters and wars, when the regular burial isn't or can't be performed by the people anymore. It usually isn't a big step to take for pantherines, to switch from scavenging to preying on the next weakest representant of humans... and then to refine the hunting skills for a bigger challenge.

5. "Infirmity and Old Age of Big Cats" Undoubtedly, the most common reasons for man-eating among pantherines are infirmity and old age. "Most man-eaters are either old beasts that cannot hunt wild game or lions that have become injured in some fashion." (John Hunter) Aging brings an inevitable weakening of life-support systems and a diminution of physical, sensory and perhaps even mental faculties to the animal. Same as broken teeth, sores on legs and arms and other injuries, this prevents cats from pursuing, capturing and dispatching their usual prey â" and that means they have to find alternate food supply in order to survive. Regarding the extreme demands of energy tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards have to invest in taking down large game, it's understandable that they begin to find it handy to prey on humans when they have such complaints. After all it's a rich supply the human "over-"population provides them with, so to say the ideal species to hunt. Once an aged or infirm predator figured out how easy it is to tackle man, it's not much of a question what will become his diet.

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Ironically it's often man himself who causes the injuries forcing big cats to adapt into man-eating: "A tiger or panther is sometimes so incapacitated by a rifle or gun-shot wound as to be rendered incapable, thereafter, of stalking and killing the wild animals of the forest â" or even cattle â" that are its usual prey. By force of circumstance, therefore, it descends to killing man, the weakest and puniest of creatures, quite incapable of defending himself when unarmed." (Kenneth Anderson, "Nine Man-Eaters and One Rogue") Causes such as injuries from poaching to excessive trophy hunting can be found in maneating reports of the last 100 years pretty often, most of them would be wounds of wire snares or even embedded wires in the flesh, as well as wounds of 'unlucky pointed shots'. Referring to the probably most famous man-eaters in history, the Tsavo lions, we can make an association to infirmity as well. "One of the man-eaters at the Field Museum [Chicago] had a broken lower right canine with an exposed root; asymmetrical growth of the skull in sesponse to this abnormality suggests the beast had suffered from this condition a long time. Perhaps he was too disabled to hunt and consume the usual prey." [Kerbis Peterhans, Bruce D. Patterson, Tom Gnoske, John Phelps 1998]. Patterson and Ellis J. Neiburger reexamined the remains of the two Tsavo maneaters as well as the one of Mfuwe, which the Field Museum acquired through Wayne Hosek in 1998 (who shot the lion back in 1991), in order to evaluate more precisely what might have driven the lions to perform man-eating. Their forensic work was limited to the skulls, jaws and skins of the animals, since that was the only thing that remained of them â" therefore it was impossible for them to trace back whether post-cranial traumas (arthritis, broken limbs, crushed vertebrae) or inflammations shaped their behavior. However, apparently all three lions show important dental damage, and "in at least on of them it was severe enough to render the infirmity hypothesis perfectly plausible". Teeth are about the most important tools for these cats to take down and kill their prey (large game, usually), a work that seems nearly impossible for them to perform without a powerful bite. "The risk of breakage to teeth follows directly from their function", as Patterson points out eloquently, since big cats use their canines to hurt, hold and kill off their targets. For lions and tigers it's not always the throttling grip that makes the kill, since - when it comes to smaller, weaker prey, they bite on the brain stem or spinal column to make a clean kill. For serving such a purpose, the canines are long and thin stabbing tools, while the cats also use their teeth for crushing bones, in order to get to the marrow inside it. "Dr. Neiburger and I believe that it is the disease and pain that are sometimes associated with tooth breakage, not breakage itself, that may be responsible for altered

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behavioral patterns and more probable conflicts with humans." Patterson states in "The Lions of Tsavo", because tooth breakage itself is common in the predatory world while man-eating is rare, and therefore can't take the sole responsibility for such behavioral anomalies.

6. "Prey Availability" Pantherines are superpredators, and that sets some interesting requirements to these animals. They can't be too choosy, because they occupy the top of the food chain and therefore can't acquire too much specialization on prey species. In fact, "usual" prey doesn't exist for them, they have to hunt what roams their territories and will in most cases get used to animals that are available in large populations. Where their 'beloved' prey gets scarce, they have to find alternatives (as I also pointed out in the "Parental Teaching" part) and will switch to other species that are available in rich populations and assure them food supply for the next few months. Prey availability can be influenced by several different events, it can be about epidemies among game, overpopulation of predators or excessive trophy hunting on large game or even widespread slaughter of game to eliminate problems with diseases and sicknesses. Events like this often force lions to switch their prey and therefore to hunt on man. An additional effect often can take place when plagues like the rinderpest rule areas inhabited by big cats. Lions and tigers hardly deny a ready made meal, and with carcasses lying all over the place they get easily (and without any dangers of hunting business) to their daily rations of meat. In such situations, the number of the cats increases greatly. The weaker cubs, which usually would die off, easily grow to maturity by that, causing a whole region to be overrun with large predators. That then causes the problem that, when the plague is over, when no carcasses and no live game or cattle are around anymore, the cats have to fight for their survival and then choose the prey that is available to them: humans.

7. "Ecological Crises" Leopards and lions easily start scavenging when their usually hunted prey gets scarce. As I've pointed out, it's the opportunity to acquire a taste for human meat that makes up a lot of the matter that leads to man-eating behavior, not only in cats, technically in any predator of higher intelligence. Regions tormented by famine, sicknesses and diseases among humans evidently cause more man-eating than regions with healthy human populations. Predators are often forced to switch to other food resources when mankind overhunts their regular prey (in that case caused through famine), begin to scavenge on human bodies and finally adapt to hunt the overpopulated, which should assure them food supply in future. It's a matter of fact, when we refer to the situations of Kumaon or

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Tsavo, where the most famous and most dramatic man-eating showed up, that such events take big influence on the behavior of these animals. In Tsavo from 1860 to 1900, where drought, famine and cholera, as well as ethnic crises ruled the region just while the brittish began to build a railroad from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, people were dying everyday and everywhere, in the houses, streets, fields and the long roads... the dead bodies left lying around. If it wasn't for a disease, people were killed by each other in competition for food. That were ideal circumstances for lions, leopards and hyenas to scavenge on human bodies, and therefore the opportunity needed was given for them to eventually turn into man-eaters.

8. "Human Naivety and Animal Intellect" Being very intelligent animals, pantherines do associate many signs, actions and scents with their prey. This helps them to find their targets and to make a decision how and when to attack. It's one of the most fascinating capabilities all cats have, that they enjoy to study their targets - no matter if it is in play or serious hunting - and that they make a rational decision up on it. Talking about tigers and lions we have to expect a lot of intelligent actions, since they begin to study their prey into the smallest detail and refine their hunting skills by that. They evidently study the daytime rhythm of human populations (such as sleeping at night, working at day, cooking in the evening) and environments humans live in (even the huts, the fires and houses seem to be familiar to them) and use all these informations to become more efficient man-killers, just as they'd do it with their usually preferred game. Referring to the events in Tsavo it becomes clear that the railroadworkers did do one big mistake: open bush country, dotted with tents and some of them only a few meters away from the railroadtracks, which easily could have served the lions to find humans to prey on. No fences were used to even try to protect the camps back then, before Colonel Patterson arrived and took his first actions to stop the lions. That were once again ideal circumstances for the two males to acquire the taste for human meat and to do first hunting experiences on people. Human naivety may often have been responsible for the actual "outbreak" of man-eating, since it gave the animals the opportunity to learn preying on people.

9. "The Summary of Causes" Man-eating, however, is not predictable. There are too many factors that take influence on the behavior of future man-eating individuals. Yet we can say it's in most cases a summary of causes that leads to man-eating, and many of them weren't even touched by me in this article. These here are, however, some of the most important ones to keep in mind.

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As already mentioned, man-eating is much more common than one might believe. It's a natural behavior, after all, which homo sapiens doesn't like, of course, because he's the target of it. Yet that doesn't mean big cats are man-eaters â" because we don't belong to the species a cat would generally consider to be adequate prey. To me, it's in fact something even more fascinating about big cats that captures my heart, because they don't only represent something physically and anatomically stronger than us, but also have certain mental capabilities that can occupy several humans over several months.

10. "Reference & Links" What I've read so far from english literature:

·

"The Man Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures" Col. John Henry Patterson "The Lions of Tsavo - Exploring the Legacy of Africa's Notorious ManEaters" Bruce D. Patterson "Nine Man-Eaters and One Rogue" Kenneth Anderson "Man-Eaters of Kumaon" Jim Corbett

·

·

·

Worth a click?

· ·

Field Museum: Man Eaters African Lion Conservation Status, Man Eaters

Contact the Author You can contact Markus Fumagalli "Kovu" via e-mail, ICQ or AIM: e-mail: ICQ: AIM: kovu (AT) terrasco (DOT) net 111370684 KovuTN

© Sep 6, 2007 Markus Fumagalli

www.terrasco.net

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