Recent killings by a tiger in northern India reveal how circumstances can cause predators to develop a taste for humans.
Certain animal predators may become serial killers of people, suggest animal experts and reports of multiple deaths inflicted by particular animals. In this case, a tigress is said to have killed nine people -- so far -- in a densely forested area near Jim Corbett National Park in Uttar Pradesh. Hunters are trying to track the animal in the forest, either to capture, but most likely to kill it.
"They do get a taste for humans," conservationist Belinda Wright from the Wildlife Protection Society of India told AFP. "But I think (attacks happen) more because we're very easy prey. As a tiger gets older, or is disabled in some way, we're just very, very easy as we bumble around on our two legs."
This tiger, one of about 200 living in the park, has terrorized local residents. Children can't venture far from their houses and farmers have stopped sleeping in their fields for fear of attack.
George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, told Discovery News: "It is not out of the realm of possibility that some individual animals may learn to target humans. Large cats may come to view us as easy pickings under some circumstances."
A growing taste for salt might explain the deaths.
Maheshwor Dhakal of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Kathmandu believes that as soon as leopards and other big cats start to prey upon humans, it is difficult to get them to stop.
"Since human blood has more salt than animal blood, once wild animals get the taste of salty blood, they do not like other animals like deer," Dhakal told CNN.
But developing a taste for humans, or anything, requires a learning process based on past experience. That isn't possible unless the predator can frequently encounter the "food source."
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman for the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, has told Discovery News that wild animals are often reported as being in urban areas "possibly because humans are encroaching more and more into areas previously reserved for wildlife, resulting in the destruction of their habitat."
In terms of big cats, the usual problem concerns deadly encounters with cows, sheep and other livestock. An animal that goes after humans is rare.