If a human comes too close and surprises a sleeping or a feeding tiger (particularly if it is a tigress with cubs), the tiger may attack and kill a human. Tigers can also attack humans in a case of “mistaken identity” (for example, if a human is crouching while collecting firewood, or cutting grass) and sometimes when a tourist gets too close. Some also recommend not to ride a bicycle, or run in a region where tigers live in order to not provoke their chase. Peter Byrne wrote about an Indian postman who was working on foot for many years without any problems with resident tigers, but was chased by a tiger soon after he started riding a bicycle for his work.
In some cases tigers change their natural diet and become man-eaters. This is usually caused by a tiger being incapacitated by a gunshot wound or porcupine quills, or some other factors, such as health issues and disabilities. As tigers in Asia often live in a close proximity to a large number of humans, the tiger has killed more people than any other cat. Between 1876 and 1912, tigers killed 33,247 people in British India.
Man-eaters have been a recurrent problem for India, especially in Kumaon, Garhwal and the Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal. Here some healthy tigers have been known to hunt humans. Even though tigers usually avoid elephants, they have been known to jump over elephant’s backs and severely harm the mahout riding on the elephant’s back. Kesri Singh mentioned a case when a fatally wounded tiger attacked and killed a hunter who wounded it, while a hunter was on the back of an elephant. Most man-eating tigers are eventually captured, shot or poisoned.
During war, tigers may acquire a taste for human flesh from the consumption of corpses which have lain unburied, and go on to attack soldiers; this happened during the Vietnam and Second World Wars. Tigers will stalk groups of people bending down while working in a field or cutting grass, but will lose interest as soon as the people stand upright. Consequently, it has been hypothesized that some attacks are a simple case of mistaken identity.
Tigers typically surprise victims from the side or from behind: either approaching upwind or lying in wait downwind. Tigers rarely press an attack if they are seen before their ambush is mounted.