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Today while visiting the tiger exhibit at my local zoo, I read that in areas where tiger attacks on humans are common, people will often wear a mask on the back of their head to ward of tiger attacks, as tigers only ever attack from behind.

Wikipedia makes the unreferenced claim that this strategy used to work, but no longer does because tigers are too clever.

Is there any evidence to show that wearing a mask on the back of one's head is, or ever has been, effective in warding off tiger attacks?

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This is discussed on page 28 of Montgomery's 2009 Spell of the Tiger: The Man-Eaters of Sundarban. (Having said that, who knows? Montgomery is writing about things people told her and things she saw, i.e., seeming abandonment of the masks. But this is a start ...) (In Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich takes Montgomery's account as fact but simply uses the point in passing.)

Here's the passage from Montgomery:

The masks worked as long as the tigers believed in them. Which was not for long. “After five or six months, they were finding out that this was not the front of the human being,” Kalyan Chakrabarti told me when he visited us at the Tollygunge Club.

Kalyan was an intense and fervent man in his fifties, possessed of a dense energy, as if all his intuitions and theories and stories and plans were physically compacted into his short, stout body. He was adamant on this point: “They know what a human being looks like,” he insisted. “They know there is a back and a front. Then they are finding out that one is not a good front.” The masks, he said, were “a little gimmick that worked for a particular period.”

(When we visited, although some officials still considered the masks effective, almost no one seemed to use them. Of all the villagers I met in Sundarbans, I found only one fishing group carrying the masks on their boat.)

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I have been trying to find that same answer. Results are totally mixed. A report I have that went from 1986-1989 showed nearly 100% effectiveness among those wearing the masks. That said the locals have never liked the idea (especially honey collectors who claimed the mask affected their ability to work) so there may be a bias against it. They said it was only effective for six months which counters the official reports.

The reports below are the only official sources on this matter and until I find evidence elsewhere I would believe them first. Using this technique against other big cats has never been studied. I myself live in mountain lion country and made a DIY eyespot mask to make me feel safer. I have never uncovered a official document showing that the technique lost effectiveness.

  • Pure anedoctal but a old guy served as soldier in a remote amazonic region told me they are told to, in the case they encounter a jaguar, never try to run and always look to it head-to-head the common realization is giving it your back triggers it instinct to attack and jaguars are know to target head/nape giving a killing bite on the skull/spine – jean Apr 12 '18 at 20:24
  • Broken link: tier15.deviantart.com/art/… – MarianD Apr 13 '18 at 11:37

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