Hunting Dangerous Game: Modern Day Man-Eaters I've Known

Pursuing man-eating predators takes hunting to a new level, one the author has encountered multiple times in places around the world.

Hunting Dangerous Game: Modern Day Man-Eaters I've Known

“Tiger, Tiger!” screamed the man as he ran in the opposite direction we were walking. Rather than run, my wife, Tiffany, and I stood our ground, knowing the usual results of what happens when humans run from big predators.

Sixty yards in front of us, the thick jungle danced to a rhythm of its own. Armed with only a camera, I looked through the telephoto lens, ready to snap away the instant the big cat slithered into the secluded, muddy road on which we stood.

Heart pounding, I could only pray that when the cat hit the road, it would continue its line of travel, paralleling us. When a wild boar darted into the road, I felt relief, for I figured that’s what the cat was chasing. No cat was seen, but the driver swore it was out there.

Tiffany and I were on a photo safari in India, retracing the steps of Jim Corbett during his onslaught of managing man-eaters. Our jeep had gotten stuck in a flooded creek in the forest, and Tiffany and I, along with our driver, had to walk more than two hours to the nearest village, near the park entrance. Tigers are prevalent in that part of India, and our driver was certain we would not make it out alive. Granted, having only a camera induced a feeling of vulnerability, something I’d not felt during the times I pursued man-eating predators in other parts of the world, gun in hand. 

Arctic Killer

My first man-eater experience came in 1990 when Tiffany and I moved to Alaska’s Arctic, where we worked as school teachers in the village of Point Lay. Point Lay consisted of less than 100 Inupiat Eskimo, and polar bears were prevalent in the village, which sits on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

I was awakened by a 5 a.m. phone call on December 9. It was -42 degrees, we were amid 24 hours of darkness and the village Public Safety Officer (PSO) was requesting help. He received a call that a bear had attacked a man in the middle of town, underneath one of the few street lights that illuminated this desolate little village.

Armed with a .30-06 and a flashlight, finding the attack site wasn’t hard for me. Human hair whipped in the wind, attached to chunks of scalp that were frozen to the ground. The blood trail was easy to follow. The nearest trees were hundreds of miles to the south, meaning no impediments or distractions got in the way of tracking.

Alone, I followed the trail while the PSO stayed behind to organize a search party. The polar bear dragged the victim by the throat or head, as evidenced by the heel scuff marks between the polar bear’s footprints atop the frozen snow. At one point the man broke free, crawling on hands and knees before the polar bear once again seized him.

Shortly into the tracking job, I found where the man squirmed out of his black jacket. The collar was riddled with punctures from the bear’s canines, the inside saturated in frozen blood.

The village of Point Lay sits atop the tundra, nearly 100 yards above the Arctic Ocean. In winter, snow covers the land and the frozen ocean. The bear headed right to sea, dragging the man through the valley of two giant snowdrifts. Each drift was more than 70 feet tall, and ran from the tundra all the way to the frozen ocean. While descending into the ice valley was a claustrophobic sensation, at the same time the beam of my flashlight was greatly magnified.

It was easy to read the sign, and I moved quickly hoping to catch up to the man before it was too late. Then I came to a place where the bear and victim once again struggled; the man trying to crawl away, the bear recapturing him. The amount of blood covering the stark white snow was profound, and the fact the man was still alive, harrowing.

Continuing down the blood trail, I saw the headlight of a snow mobile below me — from the search party — pulling up where the frozen ocean met the bottom of the snow drifts at the beach. When the machine came to a stop, I could see the body of the victim, and beyond that, the glowing eyes of the polar bear. The light of the snow mobile reflected off the base of a snowdrift, providing just enough light for me to see the bruin for the first time.

Running to the man on the snow machine, I could see the victim was more than half-eaten and the driver stunned to the point of non-responsiveness. I kept moving to catch up with the bear. Unsure if my rifle would fire in the chilling conditions, I tried slowing my pulse so I could align the crosshairs of my scope with the flashlight beam. I was relieved when the gun fired, and the 220-grain bullet hit the mark.

That was my first encounter with a man-eater, and while the ending was horrific for the victim and so sad for his family, it gave me a taste of what men such as Corbett and John Patterson must have endured in their pursuit of such ghastly beasts.

Just like the man-eaters of Tsavo, once these lions got a taste for human flesh and livestock, and realized how easy it was to attain, there was only one way to put an end to the problem.
Just like the man-eaters of Tsavo, once these lions got a taste for human flesh and livestock, and realized how easy it was to attain, there was only one way to put an end to the problem.

African Lions

A few years later I was in South Africa. At midnight, I arrived in my rental car at the house of Joel Hancock, a friend who lived in Pretoria. “Grab your gear, we need to go, the cats were back and killed last night,” Joel urgently instructed.

Hancock’s government job was managing problem animals along the border of Kruger Park. He’d been after this lion pride for weeks, as they’d been coming out of the park at night, killing livestock and people, and returning to the safety of the park in daylight. Hancock was forbidden to track problem animals into the park, even if they were man-eaters.

We arrived in the village at dawn. Joel talked with the chief of the village and formulated a plan. We secured a donkey to use as bait, tied it to a lone tree in a hand-tilled field a few hundred yards from the park boundary and 100 yards from the eastern fringe of the village.

The village was without power, and the members of the crude establishment owned no weapons. Villagers had been trying to ward off the lions with diminutive fires and sticks, but to no avail. Just like the man-eaters of Tsavo, once these lions got a taste for human flesh and livestock, and realized how easy it was to attain, there was only one way to put an end to the problem.

By mid-afternoon our blind was built, positioned 70 yards from the tree the donkey would soon be tied to. This was the distance Joel found as optimal for providing enough light to see an animal, yet not so much light so as to risk spooking it. This was not Joel’s first encounter with man-eating lions; in fact, he had many such ordeals. 

It was winter, and temperatures plunged into the low 20s, very cold even for that part of Africa. Shortly after dark, hyenas started calling, their eerie sounds echoing across the land. Fortunately, they didn’t bother the donkey.

As we were dozing off, shivering in the extreme cold, the crunching of bones broke the stillness of the black night. Seconds later a thundering roar emanated mere feet from our blind. Without our knowing, the pride of four lions had silently come to our calls, killed the donkey and started feasting.

“We’ll wait for all the cats to start feeding, then I’ll turn on the light, so be ready,” whispered Joel. Fifteen minutes later, Joel turned on the flashlight. My gun was already in the shooting sticks, barrel out the hole in the blind. I had no trouble seeing the cats, but the problem was there were two lions on each side of the donkey, laying side-by-side. If I shot the near cat, the bullet might pass through and cripple the cat on the other side.

For the next several minutes, Joel turned the light off and on, hoping to catch a cat as it stood. Finally, the timing was right, and I smacked the first lion behind the shoulder. The pride took off in an impressive flurry of dust and fur. Instantly, Joel got back on the electronic call, and a few minutes later the three cats returned. Again, the shot was easy, and again Joel quickly got on the call. Five minutes later, the other two cats returned, and I dropped another big lion.

As is common, the pride of killer cats consisted of all lioness and the fourth and final one wouldn’t come back to our calls; she’d had enough. So, we got into Joel’s Toyota 4x4 and went after the cat. I was in the front seat with the driver, Joel on top with a man from the village holding a spotlight. Driving into 5-foot high, thick, yellow grass, we hadn’t made it far when Joel abruptly knocked on the roof. This instant the truck stopped, Joel fired, the blaze of his muzzle blast mere inches from the windshield.

Figuring Joel had accidentally fired the rifle due to the sudden, rough stop, I was shocked when a second shot followed. I was even more stunned when I looked over the hood of the truck and saw the thrashing tail of the lion.

Joel caught a glimpse of the cat as it charged, and when it was 3-feet from the bumper, he fired, hitting it between the eyes. The follow-up shot was insurance. Had Joel missed the mark, the situation could have quickly turned ugly.

It was a long, nerve-racking night, but finally, the village rested in peace.

Nile Crocodiles

The next day, Joel and I returned to his office to file a report. That’s when Joel received a message about some problem crocodiles in a place Joel had been to less than a week prior.

“I recently took a big croc from this pond, and I just happened to be in the village when it killed a 14-year old girl,” Joel recounts. “The people went crazy the instant the attack happened. Every man, woman and child got into the water, surrounded where the croc had dragged the girl, joined hands and started walking in a line toward shore. I stood there, rifle at the ready, and sure enough, the crocodile came out. I killed it, but it was too late, as moments later the body of the girl was found in the knee-deep water.”

Crocodiles kill a lot of villagers and livestock every year in rural Africa. After all, these are the waters villagers bathe and swim in, get drinking water from and use to water their livestock. Once crocs take up residency in these waters, it’s Joel’s job to sort them out.

We returned to the same village where Joel had killed the croc, as more were still aggressively pursuing people and killing livestock. “Any croc we see over 6-feet long, you shoot,” Joel instructed.

The first croc I shot was just over the minimum size, one Joel established through experience is big enough to kill humans and livestock. The second one was a bit bigger.

We spotted the croc sunning itself on a point of land. Stalking through mud and water wasn’t easy, as we had to remain silent. Picking leaches from our legs between steps, slowed our progress.

Eventually I was in the shooting sticks, and the croc was facing away. “When it opens its mouth, shoot it in the brain,” Joel instructed. Crocs regulate their body temperature by gaping their mouths, and this provided the perfect shot angle. At the sound of the .222, the crocs upper jaw dropped, its tail flinched ever so slightly, and that was it.

Walking up on the croc, I’ll never forget the feeling in Joel’s voice. “This is where it happened, this is the exact spot where the 14-year-old girl was recently killed.” Though menial, there was solace in knowing that part of the lake had one less potential man-eater lurking in it.

There have been other man-eaters I’ve encountered, like the Sumatran tiger that killed a lady near where Tiffany and I used to live on the island of Sumatra. I worked with the local government to try and get that cat, and though we bayed it with dogs in the dense jungle, I could never see it for a shot despite it’s being less than 30 yards away.

Pursuing man-eaters takes hunting to a whole new level, one I never knew existed. Nerve racking? Yes. Stressful? Of course. But the gratification of settling the score with a man-eater, and helping others along the way, results in a feeling of goodwill and achievement a hunter must personally experience in order to fully understand.


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