In the Asian jungle lurks a fearsome predator — one of the few animals on the planet that can and will eat people. Fast and incredibly powerful, tigers are in conflict with humans living in their midst… leading to deadly encounters. Join biologist Niall McCann as he heads to western Nepal in search of a close encounter with one of the fiercest predators ever to walk this earth: the royal Bengal tiger. Here’s an excerpt from Niall’s field journal from his expedition to find the Biggest & Baddest Man-Eating Tiger.
For as long as I can remember, the animal I have most wanted to see was the tiger. Tigers are woven into the cultural heritage of human populations both in tiger home-range countries such as India and Nepal, and countries far away from any wild tigers. In the west we name sports teams after them, write songs, poems and children’s books about them, but in the countries where tigers still live there is a much more pressing reality: from time to time, tigers eat people.
All the stories I’d heard about man eating tigers had a central theme: the man eating tiger had been wounded in some way and then turned to predating upon people. The reality of the situation is much more complex than that: humans continue to destroy tiger habitat and to hunt tiger prey species, meaning that what little habitat remains is often surrounded by human populations, and prey is so scarce that tigers are forced to supplement their diet by predating upon people and livestock.
I was in Nepal investigating stories of man eating tigers with the help of the famed tiger hunter – turned conservationist Peter Byrne. There are only approximately 125 tigers left in Nepal, a population that has been decimated by poaching and habitat loss in a region with incredibly high human population growth rates. Peter was a magnificent guide, full of wonderful stories of encounters with tigers and of life in the jungles of the Terai Plain in western Nepal. We were searching for tigers in the forests of Bardia National Park, riding domesticated elephants deep into the forest just after dawn and again before dusk in the hope of filming a tiger in the wild.
Two days earlier, I had lived through the most incredible experience of my life when I was charged by a tiger. We had been pursuing a female tiger while on elephant back, hoping to get a glimpse of her in the dense forest, when she had charged at us as a warning to stop following her. The whole forest shook as she roared, and every hair on my body stood on end as I she bared down upon us. At the last second she turned and disappeared into the forest, leaving me filled with a sense of awe the like of which I had never felt before. After we were charged, Peter said that in his opinion a female tiger is the most dangerous animal in the forest, and told us of the two times that he has witnessed a tiger leaping up at the elephants pursuing them, on both occasions killing the Mahut elephant drivers.
On this particular morning we were hoping to film a tiger near a waterhole in a remote part of the park. The film crew had set themselves up behind a camouflaged hide and were waiting for something to appear at the water’s edge. “Come on Niall, let’s go for a walk,” Peter said to me: “it’s better than just hanging around.” We left the camera crew in place and slunk off into the forest. For 90 minutes or so we quietly stalked chital deer and black faced langur monkeys, sneaking up on wild peacocks and a family of rhesus macaques. Just as we were approaching a stand of tall elephant grass on the edge of the forest I looked up and spotted a movement maybe 35m in front of us. I didn’t have time to get my binoculars to my eyes, but I didn’t need to, there was no mistaking the shape disappearing into the grass: it was a tiger. That very second, just as I was about to warn Peter, he stopped dead in his tracks, put his arm out across my chest and sniffed the air: “My god!” He said: “I smell tiger!”
Don’t Miss Biggest & Baddest: Man-Eating Tiger tonight at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.