On Monday morning, a few media outlets in Kerala reported that a male tiger had killed a man in revenge for killing its partner.
The story started with the arrest of an illicit liquor brewer named Thamby on Thursday by forest officials in Palathdiyar in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district.
Thamby was accused of killing a tiger earlier this year. Thamby, along with a few other persons, was involved in carrying out illegal activities inside the forest like preparing arrack.
One of his group members was an infamous poacher called Baby who had been attacked and killed by a tiger in March. On his arrest, Thambi confessed that their group had killed a tigress in February.
“It was on March 2 that Baby was attacked and killed by the tiger. When we nabbed Thamby, he told us that they had killed a tigress on February 27. They took the animal’s skin and the meat was shared among them. Four days later, the group once again visited the same area to prepare arrack. Baby was alone for a while when the others went to get some vessels. It is then that one tiger attacked Baby. He was taken to a hospital but died on his way,” Ranni Forest Range officer KA Saju told The News Minute.
Thamby told the police that the tiger that attacked Baby could have been the partner of the tigress they had killed in February, suggesting that it could have been an act of revenge on the animal’s part.
But do animals hold grudges or have a sense of revenge?
According to KA Saju, “Thamby said it casually and we don’t have any proof of it. We don't even know whether the tiger that attacked Baby was a male. Being a forest official for so many years, I have never heard of a tiger taking revenge for its partner's death. It may have happened but we are not sure about it.”
The argument that animals hold grudges or simply act under stress isn’t a new one though.
In 2007, a Siberian tiger killed one and injured two others at the San Francisco Zoo with some reports stating that the victims had allegedly taunted the animal before the attack.
Speaking on whether or not the tiger could have been holding a grudge against the three men, Dave Salmoni, the Animal Planet network's predator expert, told TIME, "That tiger could have been surrounded by 10,000 people,” and if the animal had a mission, "it will avoid all of those people and just to go to those three people. There's nothing more focused than a tiger who wants to kill something."
He went on to explain that what we refer to as grudge in relation to human beings can actually be conditional reinforcement in case of animals. "Any animal that can be trained can remember, and if you can remember, you can hold a grudge," he said.
Praveen Bhargav, Trustee of Wildlife First however said that wild animals normally do not seek out and kill people. “Even when human mortality does take place, it is invariably an accidental killing and not revenge seeking behaviour. In the specific incident at Pathanamthitta, the gang of hunters have illegally intruded into wildlife habitat resulting in the death of one hunter. This needs to be investigated as fights between members of hunting gangs sometimes lead to murders which is covered up by concocting such stories."