Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tiger ‘rebellions’ in the hills

Print of a tiger hunt from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1878)

In the mid- to late 1800s tigers and humans waged a war in the hills of Vizagapatam district, and, as elsewhere in the country, the tigers gave way to humans, due in large part to the firearms supplied by the British. 

Government reports from the period talk about the menace caused by man-eaters to small-holding farmers in Paderu, Jeypore, Padua and other places in the Eastern Ghats surrounding Vizag.  The local people aptly called these attacks tiger fituris (tiger rebellions).

The solution hit upon by the British administration was to increase the reward for a tiger’s skin from Rs. 35 to Rs. 100. This led to an increase in the number of shikaris out to get the tigers, man-eating or otherwise, and between 1863 and 1866 rewards were distributed for 85 tigers, 365 cheetahs and panthers, 72 bears and 61 hyenas.

Caulfield's travails

This, however, did not appear to have stopped fatal attacks by the animals, for, in 1873, we hear of the Madras Government appointing one Captain Caulfield, Superintendent of Police at Coimbatore, to hunt down man-eating tigers in Vizagapatam district.  He left Madras on Christmas Eve of that year and arrived in the district three days later.  By the 6th of January, 1874, he had set off for the hills in pursuit of man-eaters, talking to the locals, buying bait, and figuring out the tigers’ haunts. From his diary entries it appears the three principal methods to kill a tiger were trapping, poisoning (by injecting strychnine into the bait), and shooting. 

The hunt was not easy. The quarry was cunning, and even after five days of tracking a man-eater, Caulfield could not catch sight of it. Instead, one night, he was assailed by a cheetah out to eat his dog, while he was asleep in his tent. Caulfield’s group was finally forced to give up and go back to Madras after all the servants were laid down by a bout of the virulent jungle fever – what is today known as cerebral malaria.


Turner’s plea

Ten years later, in 1884, H.G. Turner, the agent and collector of Vizagapatam made a passionate plea to Madras to take urgent measures to save the people of these hills from the tigers. He reports 40 deaths in four months in Paderu, Nandapur, Padua and Sujankota and 35 in 12 months in the circles of Lamsinghi police station. “The panic that exists here is terrible. People will not go out of their houses after dark. They are obliged to form large parties to go to market; villages are deserted; cultivation is pursued under the greatest difficulty and in constant trepidation. This morning I was shown a deserted village, abandoned on account of the tiger terror,” he says and recounts incidents of people being lifted by the dreaded beasts.

“Recently a man and his wife were ploughing a field near this abandoned village, when a tiger attacked the man in the middle of the day. He hit him with a bill hook, and the tiger turned on the woman and carried her off before his eyes. On the road I was shown two spots where the tiger carried off two men in one day. 

"Yesterday I was shown a place where a tiger sprang upon a constable, knocked him down, and mauled him so severely that he died the next day. The constable was one of a guard who were escorting about 100 people home from market. Three days ago a village munsif came to see me, with the story that a tiger got into his yard, in the middle of the village, and seized his wife, and although he beat it off, the poor woman died the next day.”

The Vizagapatam gazetteer says, “Between June 1881 and March 1883, 133 persons were killed in the Nandapuram and Padwa taluks alone.”

Villages were abandoned and people stopped tilling their fields for fear of being carried away by tigers even in broad daylight. There was a real fear that the hill tracts would soon become depopulated. The year Turner sent this report, the government distributed a number of old police carbines among the hill people to help them deal with the tigers. 

Wholesale slaughter
The gazetteer reports, “The most famous tiger of recent times was the Tentulakunti man-eater in the south of Naurangpur, which was credited with killing 200 persons before it was at length slain by Mr. H.D. Taylor, ICS, then in charge of Jeypore estate during the Maharajah’s minority.”

But he adds that this distribution of firearms along with the increase in prize money for animals led to a wholesale slaughter of wild animals in the district, with deer and bison being the most common prey.  Finally game rules had to be enforced in the district to save the wildlife that still survived.

Today we find no bison and cheetah in this region, and it was with surprise that I heard my father, who once worked in Koraput of Jeypore district, tell me that, though rare, tigers were sighted in the wilder portions of the hills, (and sometimes the not so wild portions such as railway station platforms), even as late as the 1960s and 1970s. 

1.    W. Francis, The Madras District Gazetteers: Vizagapatam, (Madras, 1907), pp. 22-23.

2. John O’Brien, Destruction of Wild Animals in Vizagapatam, The British Library: India Office Records,October 26, 2012, http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/untoldlives/2012/10/destruction-of-wild-animals-in-vizagapatam.html.

3.      D.F. Carmichael, Manual of the District of Vizagapatam in the Presidency of Madras (Madras, 1869), pp. 51-52.

4.      Indian Memory Project, “77, The forest ranger of Jeypore, Orissa,” http://www.indianmemoryproject.com/?s=Jeypore#sthash.1RmLqXtn.dpbs.

5.      5. The man-eater’s jaws: Six villages in India devastated by tigers in broad day, Watkins Express sourced from London Times, October 16, 1884.