But tigers actually claim an average of 85 lives per year – mostly in South Asia, and they claim more people’s lives than any other cat in the world. There used to be many more deaths averaging close to 2,000 per year; the numbers have sharply decreased in recent years likely due to declining populations.
But back to the original question – could you survive one? Sure – and we’ll talk about how. But will you? Probably not.
First because it’s unlikely to happen, but even if it did, the odds are against you. Bear in mind that tigers are 70% muscle mass and weigh 300 pounds, with three inch claws and seven inch teeth. They’re twenty times stronger than the average human, five times stronger than the strongest human, and have a bite force of 1050 psi.
Only polar bears and brown bears are more dangerous. They’re extremely smart and naturally predatory. So rather than ask if you can survive an attack, learn how to avoid one.
It’s a lot easier to do, considering there aren’t many of these beautiful creatures left and the survival odds are much lower should you encounter one.
Why would a tiger attack? This is the most important question if we want to avoid the situation in the first place. Here are a few reasons you might face a tiger attack:
➢ Surprising a sleeping or feeding tiger
➢ Surprising a tigress with cubs
➢ Mistaken identity for prey
➢ Tourist gets too close
➢ Provoking the chase
Many deaths by tiger are accidental; the tiger does not deliberately kill, but zoo accidents happen, and it’s rare but India in particular is known for man-eating tigers. Indian man-eating tigers are actually a direct result of the good deed of preservation efforts. Greater populations exist there, so they move closer to human settlements while searching for food.
Interestingly, while we debate surviving an attack, in fact tigers who become man-eaters generally do so as a diet change due to poor health – humans are easier prey than the tiger’s normal dietary choices. They can also develop a taste for humans during war, feasting on corpses who remain unclaimed.
This actually happened after World War II and in Vietnam. Soldiers in the field weren’t just battling enemies; they were defending themselves against attacks from vicious wildlife who’d developed a taste for the humans left behind.
It should be noted that measures to prevent tiger attacks aren’t known to be particularly successful if the tiger has already shown interest. In the Sunderbans of India, where the man-eating tigers live, some success was briefly demonstrated when people wore masks on the backs of their heads. Tigers attack from the rear, so this worked for some time until the tigers caught on. Cats are extremely intelligent beings too, so humans have to stay a step ahead.
The best measures remain staying upright, traveling in groups, and staying in populated areas.
How Does One Avoid a Tiger Attack?
First, the best advice is to stay calm and be realistic. Unless you are living in tiger attack country, it probably won’t happen. And even if you do live in tiger attack country, it probably won’t happen.
Most likely everyone in the Sunderbans of India can tell you stories of someone they know who got killed by a tiger, but the population is still high enough that it’s rare. Only 3 out of a 1,000 tigers are man-eaters, and there are fewer than 5,000 in the wild, so we’re worrying about a population of 15 tigers (other than occasional zoo attacks that do occur as well), so the odds are in your favor that you won’t be attacked.
Don’t panic if you see one. Be smart and get away from it as quickly as possible – but definitely do not panic.
Follow some well-advised rules:
1. Stay upright. Tigers also often stalk humans they find crouching while working in fields. Once they stand, the tiger loses interest – people simply are not the prey they prefer. This is why it’s believed that often attacks are mistaken identities.
So if you find yourself crouching in an area known for tiger presence, get yourself upright
2. Stay close to populated areas. Tigers usually stalk for some time before attacking, but they avoid populated areas. Therefore, if you stay within well-traveled areas and especially within towns, you significantly reduce your chance of running into one, and if there is one stalking you undetected, it will likely back off when you approach a town.
3. Go with groups of people. Tigers choose solitary people before they choose groups, and again, they follow for some time. If there is more than one person with you or someone joins you, a tiger will likely not engage.
4. Change direction constantly. Tigers usually attack from behind or the side, approaching upwind or lying in wait downwind. If the tiger is spotted before the ambush begins, they usually do not follow through. Therefore, change direction constantly so that they cannot stay upwind of you.
5. Carry a firearm with you. If you have to shoot the firearm, the tiger will be scared off likely by the sound of the shot even if you miss – but a heavy-powered firearm is also likely the only tool you’d be able to use against a tiger that might actually slow them.
In fact, tigers have been known to attack while injured from bullet wounds, so the most
deadly one at your disposal along with some intense target practice may be your best
6. Don’t make sudden loud noises unless you’re actively discouraging an attack. If the noise is steady, for example conversation in your group, you’re more likely to warn or even not disturb at all a sleeping, feeding, or mother tiger. They’ll likely stay away from you. But sudden noise will make them feel under attack, and they’ll defend themselves and their cherished sleep, food, or children.
7. Follow rules. If you’re in a zoo or a safari park, follow the rules and stay away from enclosures. Almost every attack story is the result of a tourist or visitor disregarding rules. You’re invading the space of a violent animal who might be hungry or tired. Rules exist for your safety.
8. Walk – don’t run and stay off of bikes! Moving fast sounds like a good idea in theory, but have you seen dogs who go after cars and bikes? Wild animals are the same when they’re in the right mood.
Hunting instinct kicks in and you become their prey because of the speed with which
you’re moving. Despite your urge to move through quickly, the best way to go through is calmly, without showing fear.
Methods Some People Swear Will Work – and Why They’re Wrong
Let’s be realistic. Here’s a video that demonstrates why you shouldn’t even waste your time on most of these ideas. Here a tiger stays hidden until it’s thirty to fifty feet away – it’s clearly been stalking in the grass for a while and despite the height of the men being attacked, it wasn’t detected.
The men are high in the air on the backs of elephants. From the distance the tiger rises out of the grass and launches into the air; he covers the space between them in about three seconds and manages to get enough height quite easily to attack the man atop the elephant.
The man appears to be prepared for a tiger attack and carries a stick that doesn’t dissuade the tiger in the slightest, and the man survives at least what we can see (it’s possible he bleeds out), but he loses most of his hand.
When you look at a real life scenario like that one, it’s easy to see why maybe some ideas for survival against a tiger are a little far-fetched:
1. Grab the tiger from behind. First, tigers attack you from behind, so if it surprises you, how are you going to get yourself at a better angle to do this? But the point is really moot. This suggestion comes from someone who has surely never taken on a tiger.
A tiger – like most cats – has a non-load bearing spine. That means it’s flexible enough that it can reach onto its back and attack quite easily. Their back legs are actually stronger than their front legs – hence their amazing leaping ability – and they can actually trap you underneath them if you try this, ensuring a faster death than just about any other method.
They can also get to your arms with their powerful claws – possibly the strongest part of their body, which will damage your arms so badly they’ll be rendered useless and the animal is free to kill you with ease. Nope, not a good idea.
2. Poke it in the eye! Really, it’s a suggested method! It might actually work…no one likes being poked in the eye! If you dig your finger into its eye, you may create so much pain that it backs off.
Or not – it might shake you off and right into its mouth! If you happen to have a stick, or a
rifle you’re too panicked to actually shoot, those might work better for eye-poking and will
keep the tiger a little further at bay. How are you going to get that close anyway and still
have enough self-control to attempt this?
Honestly, this might work – by luck, with a frail tiger. If the animal gets that close and you
have needle-sharp wits that move faster than its claws, it’s your best bet. Remember this
one in case it gets that close – but pray it doesn’t get that close!
3. Tame the tiger. Tamers have been doing this for thousands of years so surely it’s possible. There was even a movie – “Life of Pi” – about a boy who did it on a life raft. You probably can’t do it in the moment, but it’s said that staring it directly in the eye begins the process of taming.
On the other hand, plenty of lion tamers get mauled and some don’t make it out alive –
and we’re talking about tamers who have been with a particular cat its whole life, not
one that you came upon in the wild and you decided to hypnotize!
Ask magician Roy Horn if this works – we’ll talk more about him in a moment.
4. Outrun it. A very old or infirm tiger can be outrun by Usain Bolt! Tigers run up to 40 miles an hour over short distances. Usain Bolt can run 30 miles an hour over a short distance. I can run a half a mile an hour over approximately ten yards, and the rest of humanity falls somewhere between Bolt and me.
Therefore, Bolt may survive with just his legs and high-priced crosstrainers if the tiger is
injured, collecting a pension, or lazy. The rest of us are probably out of luck.
5. Wrap your own arms around your neck. This is a last-ditch idea but supposedly a tiger aims for your neck. If it’s already covered, it’s less likely to go after you.
This is a pure desperation move – a tiger can swat at your head and break your neck, or
it can aim for your arm and let you bleed out. This isn’t likely to work, but you’re welcome
to try if it’s the only idea you have left!
How To Actually Survive a Tiger Attack
The only real weapon an unarmed human has that could take down a tiger is its intelligence. Hence, the best plan is to be prepared no matter how unlikely the scenario. In this case, our intelligence will not allow us to defeat a tiger with our bare hands. That is not humans nor tigers were designed.
We have developed weapons and tools over centuries that we should use instead to overcome it. So barehanded survival? Not likely. Here are other methods, and they involve staying as far away as possible:
1. Carry a firearm and have it ready to use. The noise from a firearm is usually enough to scare off a tiger, but if it’s already stalking you, you may have to actually shoot it. Aim to kill.
2. Carry pepper spray. If you don’t have a gun handy or the idea intimidates you, pepper spray may work too. Pepper spray works at a good distance, so start spraying it as soon as it begins to attack so that it reacts and is repelled before it actually reaches you – if it makes contact with you before it realizes it’s in pain, it will only add to the attack.
3. Carry firecrackers and a lighter. Okay, a firearm and pepper spray are much better ideas. But they’re also more expensive, and probably hard to come by if you’re in an area where tiger attacks are something to worry about.
The sound of these sounds like a gunbattle, and gunfire is known to scare off even these
big cats. If you see one or think you’re being stalked by one, set off firecrackers.
4. Walk backward. If you see a tiger, it is most likely stalking you from behind and you just happened to see it because you heard something or turned for some reason. Tigers don’t like eye contact, so look directly at it and continue walking on your route backward while watching it.
5. Pray the tiger gets bored. The best way to win against a tiger is to go up against a tiger who gets bored a few seconds in – an ADD tiger without medications, if you will. A tiger who intends to kill will likely succeed.
Famous Tiger Attack Survivals
1. Gladiators. Roman gladiators fought a variety of animals and didn’t always survive. In fact usually the shows were beasts versus criminals who weren’t given any sort of weapons or protection, and the audience watched with glee as the criminal was gored.
But when actual gladiators took on the beasts, among them tigers, they had spears and
armors. It helped, but it didn’t guarantee survival. The animals weren’t in their natural
habitat and don’t like the taste of human flesh, nor do they generally attack a human who
is on to them, as we’ve learned.
Therefore, these protected gladiators were going against animals who didn’t have much
interest in them.
2. Tiger Swami. During the late nineteenth century, this man supposedly had such great strength he wrestled tigers for fun. There are elements to his story that sound sensationalized – for example, he calls human blood the tiger’s favorite taste, which we know to be untrue.
Tiger Swami is not widely thought to be a fraud, but his book of tiger wrestling is an
autobiography, and there are photos of him – but not wrestling or with any other sort of
There is some skepticism – are the stories even true? Were the tigers drugged, ill, or
tamed in some way? There really is no way to know but evidence is lacking.
3. Sher Shah Shuri. Known as the “Lion King” of India – lion and tiger were the same words among the people who first bestowed this name – this shah supposedly wrestled a tiger with his bare hands in the forest when it tried to attack him. It’s most likely a myth, along with one that says he was over seven feet tall, and others. He was one of India’s greatest rulers and military men, but the tiger story is likely false.
4. Gogen Yamaguchi. Another autobiographical tale, this martial artist was captured by the Russians in World War II and kept as a prisoner of war. He was locked in a cell with the tiger, which was expected to devour him, but he killed it with his bare hands. Again, there are no witnesses.
5. Roy Horn. Now here’s a believable survival story, and not just because it’s modern-day with many witnesses. Half of magician duo Siegfried and Roy, Horn was attacked by his pet tiger, raised in captivity, who had never shown any sign of violence.
He and his partner later claimed the cat had been trying to play with him – and it’s likely
true, since Horn survived. But Horn passed out and was taken to the hospital, and he’s
been partially paralyzed ever since the incident almost fifteen years ago.
So – could you survive a tiger attack? The answer depends! You can very easily avoid one, so yes!
But if you find yourself in the middle of a tiger attack, you’re probably having the last interesting experience of your life, and what a shame you won’t get to tell the story! It’s possible to survive but that’s based on pure luck, and your luck is likely a bit thin if you’re staring down a tiger.
Focus on avoiding attacks in the first place, and you’ll surely have plenty more stories to tell – even if they have nothing to do with tigers because you never run into one!