In Westworld, flies stand out as the only living, nonhuman animals that exist in the park. Their “realness” was confirmed in Season 1, when a seemingly innocent, doe-eyed Dolores smacked one on her neck, negating her previous claim that she would “ever hurt a living thing.” The other animals are synthetic — robotic bison, horses, and rattlesnakes programmed to mimic their real-world counterparts. Season 2, however, revealed in its first episode that a very different sort of creature had stumbled into Park 1: a tiger.
But wait: Spoilers below for episode 3, “Virtù e Fortuna.” If you haven’t seen it yet, turn around and may you rest in a deep and dreamless slumber.
In “Journey Into Night’, we saw a tiger washed up on the shore during a survey of the park, two weeks after the banquet-massacre. Delos Inc.’s new tough-guy Head of Operations Karl Strand said the tiger isn’t supposed to be there, leaving us hanging until episode 3, when we learn that it comes a currently unnamed park where apparently people go to get a hard-on for colonialism. Here, British rule still has a hold on India and the preferred post-tea pastime is tiger hunting. The tigers here, however, can’t be trusted to act as real-world tigers do.
After a violent host turns its gun on a new character named Grace, she takes off running into the park, only to encounter a different predator: the tiger. It pursues her as she sprints frantically, and eventually they reach a cliff. Then, the tiger slows its speed to a stalk before revving up again and charging into her, body slamming them both off the cliff into the lake below.
In our world, this is possible, but fortunately quite unlikely. Not all of the 3,890 tigers left in the wild purposefully hunt for humans: It’s actually quite rare, and it predominantly happens in the Sundarbans, a tidal mangrove-filled region that spreads across India and Bangladesh. Here, tigers kill humans more than in any other habitat, earning them a reputation as “man-eaters.” Many people call for offending animals to immediately be put down, but conservationists insist on first determining the root cause of the attack rather than killing the offending cat outright, since tigers don’t necessarily have a taste for human flesh.
“Once confirmed, a ‘man-eater has to be dealt with promptly,” tiger biologist Ullas Karanth, Ph.D., told the BBC in 2014. “Any delay is risky and this angers local people. This may undermine public support for conservation of tigers as a species.”
In the Sundarbans between April 2014 and May 2017, tigers caused 92 human deaths. During the same period, elephants were responsible for 1,052 human deaths, and meanwhile, humans killed 345 tigers and 84 elephants.
Tiger aggressiveness is chalked up not to their taste for human flesh but to a loss of habitat. Conservationists argue that tiger attacks occur because of chance encounters that stem from them having to share the same environment as people. Usually, tigers only make one large kill a week: If they wanted to be eating humans, then that would mean a lot more human kills a week.
It isn’t clear whether the tiger in Westworld is acting on narrative or whether it, too, has been granted free will through the host revolution in Park 1. However, since the attack doesn’t seem to occur because of a chance encounter - the tiger sees Grace from afar, stalks her out, and pursues — it seems more likely that animals have been freed by the revolution, and that the tiger is over the hunts.
A small note: If you, like Grace, do ever encounter a tiger, don’t do what she did. Running away from a tiger is bad idea: Experts say that tigers enjoy a chase, and the better thing to do is slowly back away and get yourself somewhere high up. It’s also recommended to not urinate in a tiger’s habitat, although — if you’re scared enough — that might not be an option.