Photo by Sander Wehkamp
Historically, once a big cat has taken to man-eating they will not stop. As such this means once cats have started eating humans they have had to be hunted down and removed, to either spend the rest of its life in captivity, or to be killed. This is a reasonable reaction to the problem, however it is increasingly not possible without large effects.
This is because the population is so low, that if the animals are killed it can threaten the survival of the species as a whole. In the book the Maneaters of Tsavo Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson offered up himself or a goat to weed out the man eaters from the healthy lions. However this was in a thriving healthy lion population.
Sumatra is thought to only have around 300 tigers left, which means we can’t afford to shoot the offending tigers.
Furthermore man eating tigers here have been shown not to be ill as is usual with man eating, but that it is humans that have invaded the forest not the animals entering villages.
Enter Tomy Winata, a local businessman, who had been transporting these tigers to Tambling nature reserve (which borders Bukit Barison national park) and setting them free. He did first move out the thousands of illegal settlers, but they did not move far, so the expectation was that they would continue hunting humans, but this had not happened.
It would appear in this instance, given the ability and space to live naturally and hunt ungulates, the tigers readily abandon the habits that made then such bad neighbours in the past. Whether this can be replicated or indeed continue we will see, but clearly this is exciting for big cat conservation. If there is a way to re-educate big cats and then re-release it gives more hope for many species whose range puts them in close contact with humans.
There is a fascinating documentary on this, to be found on YouTube, as well as the BBC Natural World documentary Tiger Island.