Man-Eating Tigress Killed in India, Lured by Calvin Klein Cologne

Indian officials say the hunters initially attempted tranquilizing the animal, but killed her, reportedly in self-defense, in the end

India is now home to about 2,500 tigers—over half the world’s population. Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons

In what Indian officials are calling the most intense tiger hunt in recent memory, a female tiger that is said to have killed 13 people in India over the last two years was shot and killed on November 2.

Hunters initially tried to tranquilize the tiger, but she became aggressive and allegedly charged the group. In “self-defense,” authorities say they had to turn to lethal measures because “we would have lost a few men had we tried to save her,” one of the hunter’s family members tells Hari Kumar and Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times.

After several failed attempts at capturing and relocating the ferocious feline over the years, the tigress often outsmarted hunters. In a somewhat unorthodox move, the team used Calvin Klein’s Obsession cologne, which contains a scent big cats love, to lure her out in the open. This eau de cologne approach proved successful and led to her demise.

Spraying the smelly stuff was a last resort for desperate forest rangers, who have tried everything from bulldozing the tigress’ jungle home to herding her with a small cavalry of elephant-riding veterinarians armed with tranquilizer guns (seriously).

Obsession, which first hit the market in the 1980s, has become a bit of a musky male mainstay, achieving “iconic status” in 1993 when Kate Moss took the photogenic helm of the cologne’s campaign. Since then, it’s been billed as being irresistible to women. But while some ladies may or may not be drawn to Obsession’s “masculine fragrance,” scientists swear by its feline appeal: Male or female, wild cats go bonkers for the stuff.

It’s not the cologne’s “enthralling blend of citrus and spices” that’s got these cats climbing the walls, however. It turns out Obsession has a not-so-secret ingredient: civetone, a chemical derived from the scent glands of civets, little cat-like mammals native to the tropics of Asia and Africa and one of the world’s oldest perfume additives.

Civetone, which civets normally secrete as a thick, yellow substance from glands near the anus, is thought to resemble a territorial marking in cologne. This musky mimicry encourages big cats to inspect the scent and attempt to replace it with their own, reported Jason G. Goldman at Scientific American in 2013.

There’s some suspicion that the vanilla notes in Obsession could also be a minor culprit. The smell of this foreign chemical could make cats curious. Regardless, Obsession is a strong lure for those of the feline persuasion, and it’s given researchers a critical—and easily available—tool to coax wild jaguars to camera traps in the field.

At Taronga Zoo in Sydney, the big cat cohort luxuriates in Obsession on the regular. Among the most cologne-crazy? The Taronga Zoo’s tigers—the cats take several minutes out of the day to waft in the scent, rub their cheeks in it, roll around and “just look to be in heaven,” reported Bec Crew for Scientific American in 2014.

This may be good news for Indian patrollers tracking this deadly, young tigress. Her killing streak was alarming, and the unusual nature of this string of attacks has left authorities baffled. As Gettleman and Kumar, reported for The New York Times earlier this year, it’s wildly uncommon for a single tiger to have attacked this many people. The region’s tigers, which are still critically endangered in India, have enjoyed a recent boost in numbers thanks to diligent conservation efforts: India now hosts over half the world’s approximately 4,000 tigers. But this boom has left cats and humans tussling for territory. And with deer populations dwindling in the region, T-1 may have developed a taste for people: According to Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, one of India’s most famous hunters, human meat is particularly sweet because of the heavy presence of ginger, salt and spices in our diet, Gettleman reports.

T-1 is mother to two cubs, making officials hesitant to take any drastic action. While many plans have centered around quarantining her to a zoo, locals—several of whom who have lost family members to the flesh-eating tigress—have rallied for more extreme measures.

“I don’t want to kill this beautiful animal,” K. M. Abharna, a top forestry official in the Pandharkawada area, told Gettleman and Kumar in September. “But there’s a hell of a lot of political pressure and a hell of a lot of public pressure.”

In September, after much debate, India’s Supreme Court gave the okay to kill T-1 if all capture efforts fail. Rangers sprayed Obsession cologne and tiger urine near a series of camera traps. It was enough to draw her out of her hiding place, and she was spotted just a few hours later and shot.

“This is a coldblooded murder,” Jerryl Banait, a wildlife activist who had gone to India’s Supreme Court in an attempt to urge authorities to pursue nonlethal means of restraining the tigress, told The New York Times' Gettleman and Kumar. Even though activists were outraged, local villagers and farmers were thrilled and celebrated her death by "shooting off firecrackers, passing out sweets and pumping their fists in the air," report Gettleman and Kumar.

“Now our lives will be back to normal,” Hidayat Khan, a villager in the nearby town of Pandharkawada, told Gettleman and Kumar. “We can go to our fields and do our work.”

T-1 roamed forests near about 60 square miles of populous farmland, like 30 percent of the tiger population in India that doesn't live on protected land. Had her life been spared, authorities say, she would have never been able to return to the wild with her two cubs.

Editor's note, November 5, 2018: This story was updated with the news of the tiger's capture and killing.

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