THE DANGERS OF THE INDIAN JUNGLE
An article from Chambers' Journal
Littel's Living Age, 1885
in which the original article was reprinted
The copyright illustration Tiger (left) is unconnected with the original article transcribed here, and is used with the kind permission of the artist (at www.homeartconcepts.com/, which is unfortunately no longer online), and may not be saved or copied.
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The accounts published from time to time by the government of India, showing the loss of life occasioned annually by snake-bites and the ravages of wild animals, still bear witness to a terrible mortality attributable to these scourges of our Eastern possessions, and we might add, afford a clear proof that the present exertions of the government of India are inadequate for the purpose.
The latest returns published in the Gazette tells the truly awful tale, that in the year 1883 upwards of twenty-two thousand lives were lost from the above-mentioned causes. Nor can the returns rendered by district officers be considered as altogether complete or satisfactory, for, owing to the apathy of the natives of India and the almost universal belief among them of the "decrees of fate", many cases of death by snake-bite are never reported, and altogether escape the notice of the authorities. Then, again, it should be remembered that the government returns which give the number of deaths attributable to snakes and wild beasts, only include cases in British India, leaving altogether unrecorded the mortality from the same causes in large independent states, such as Jeypore, Gwalior, Rewah, and many others. Moreover, the British system of keeping down wild beasts and noxious reptiles does not obtain in these large tracts of territory under independent rajahs. There, natives are not encouraged by rewards to make the destruction of tigers, panthers, and others of the felidæ as also cobras and other deadly snakes a genuine pursuit and means of gaining a livelihood.
Thus it comes to pass that in out-of-the-way parts, away from our jurisdiction, the loss of life from the above-mentioned causes shows little or no diminution, but remains very much as in the days of old before we acquired India.
Among the wild animals figuring in the list as destructive to human life, the tiger naturally holds a prominent place; the deaths of no few than nine hundred and eight-five human beings are laid to his charge; and yet the animals, if left unmolested and not provoked in any way, will seldom attack human beings. The truth is, tigers, as a rule, are cowards, only too willing to slink away on the approach of man. In former years speaking chiefly of our own territories in British India when tigers were much more common than they are nowadays, man-eaters were by no means rare. It was in those times nothing uncommon to hear of highroads stopped, large tracts of country left uncultivated, villages deserted, and permitted to fall to ruin, owing to the ravages of these dreaded creatures. Now, however, man-eaters have been nearly exterminated; occasionally one is heard of; but almost invariably his evil deeds attract the attention of the civil officer of the district, and an organized expedition is sent in search of the marauder, and eventually the animal is killed, either by the rifle of an English sportsman, or by the matchlock of some local shikarie.
How, then, it will naturally be asked, if man-eaters are so rare, does it come to pass that nearly a thousand unfortunate creatures lose their lives in a single year by tigers? In the first place, although man-eating tigers are now fortunately rare, yet there can be no doubt that the tiger when suddenly come upon in his lair, or met accidentally face to face when on the move, will, on the spur of the moment more from fear, probably, than anything else strike down any one barring his way, and pass swiftly on. Casualties of this kind often occur in wooded parts of the country. A tigress with young is especially dangerous, and will often furiously attack any one approaching the spot where the cubs are.
Again, cattle-keepers, or gwallas as they are termed in Bengal, often lose their lives by bravely exposing themselves when endeavouring to rescue some one of their charges from the clutches of the destroyer. At such times the tiger is especially dangerous. He has probably tasted blood, and often will not surrender his prey without a struggle. Should a body of men keeping close together approach him as he crouches growling behind the bullock he has dragged to the ground, he will sometimes slowly and reluctantly beat a retreat; but often rendered furious by a shower of sticks and stones cast at him and by the shouts of his daring assailants, he charges out with flashing eyes and a roar of rage, and strikes down one or more of his assailants.
A prevalent cause of death occasioned by snake-bites, etc., is the almost universal habit among the poorer classes of natives of travelling by night during the hot-weather months. It is exceptional to meet with a cobra during the daytime; but after sunset reptiles sally forth in search of food. A native, generally speaking, walks barefooted, or wears only a low shoe, which affords no protection to the ankle or leg. In the darkness, he treads upon or touches some deadly snake, is immediately bitten, and probably before daylight, lies a corpse by the roadside.
The same reckless custom of passing after sunset through jungles inhabited by all kinds of wild beasts is, though in a less degree, a constant source of danger, frequently ending in death. It has already been remarked that the tiger, if left unmolested, will seldom interfere with man, but more often, when disturbed in the daytime, will slink off with a surly growl of fear. This rule, however, certainly does not hold good with equal force after nightfall. Then wild animals are all on the prowl after prey, and they seem to be perfectly aware of the advantage they possess over human beings of a vision specially adapted by nature to penetrate the pitchy darkness of the night.
Not only, therefore, is there a greater probability of travellers meeting with dangerous animals when passing through the forest after sunset, but the tiger and his comrades of the jungle are then bolder and more to be feared; and though the tiger be a coward at heart, yet, under cover of darkness, and perhaps pinched with hunger, the sound of voices in the dead stillness of the night entices the brute to approach the roadway; and a string of defenceless natives, passing within a few yards of his lurking-place, still further awakens his evil instincts. The temptation proves too great, and with a bound, he springs upon one of the hapless travellers and carries off his shrieking victim.
We are told in the Gazette that in the year 1883, no fewer than forty-seven thousand four hundred and seventy-eight head of cattle were devoured by wild animals; and there can be no doubt that the tiger is extremely mischievous in this respect, and in consequence lays a very severe tax on natives inhabiting villages bordering upon large forests or anywhere near to his stronghold. A pair of royal tigers will probably kill and devour from ten to twelve bullocks of large size within a month's time; and a tigress with two or three nearly full-grown cubs is still more destructive. The latter, not content with pulling down cattle for food, will often, out of pure mischief, destroy two and three at a time.
There are tigers which live almost entirely on large game, such as deer and wild pigs, seldom approaching villages or the haunts of man; but, unfortunately, the great majority depend almost entirely on cattle for food; and this is not to be wondered at. The ruminants of the forest are timid, restless creatures, ever on the lookout against danger, so that it happens constantly that, in spite of the crafty, noiseless approach of their striped enemy, he is discovered ere he can creep to within springing distance. The tiger, however, is often more successful when lying in wait hard by some pool of water in the jungles. After a long, hot day, towards nightfall, deer, parched with thirst, are often impatient to reach the precious water, and incautiously approach without perceiving their hidden enemy.
But the tiger soon discovers that he can provide himself with food with far less trouble and exertion by preying on cattle. Not only is stalking them an easy task when the herd is grazing on the outskirts of the jungle, but often unlike deer, which bound away almost immediately on discovering their lurking enemy a herd of cattle will stand spellbound, paralyzed with fear, their whole attention fixed upon the striped marauder grovelling along the ground and rapidly approaching to within springing distance. Then, when too late to make their escape, the foolish creatures turn to fly; but with a bound, the tiger is upon them, and seizing a victim in his terrible grip, brings it to the ground, and kills it with one wrench of his powerful jaws.
The Asiatic lion, from certain characteristics such as the almost total absence of a mane in the male, and its smaller size, was formerly held to be of a different species from the lion of Africa; but naturalists are now inclined to consider the two animals identical. Little is known of the habits of the Indian lion, and except in Cutch, Guzerat, and one or two other spots in the Bombay presidency, it has become extremely rare. Sportsmen who have met with and shot the animal describe it as dangerous when wounded and followed up; but, like the tiger, unless provoked, the Indian lion almost invariably endeavours to make off on being disturbed. Nor does the animal appear to be nearly so bold and dangerous after nightfall, as is the case with the African lion. A crouching lion in long grass or bushes, even in comparatively bare, open ground, is more difficult to distinguish than the tiger, on account of the tawny hide exactly matching the color of the surroundings.
It may be here mentioned that it is a mistake to suppose that the male lion in its wild state carries the long, flowing mane that we see in specimens shut up in cages. The lion often inhabits dense, thorny thickets; and his mane, from constant "combing" and wear and tear when passing through prickly bushes, becomes shortened in a measure, and wants the flowing luxuriance of hair so marked in our caged specimens. The Indian lion, though an inveterate cattle-killer like his striped brother, seldom, if ever, takes to devouring human beings.
The panther and leopard both in a great measure bear a similar character to the royal tiger; they seldom will attack man, unless provoked, driven to bay, or wounded, when, like all the larger felid, they become highly dangerous, and lives are often lost in their pursuit on foot. Instances now and again occur of both these animals showing unusual ferocity and taking to man-killing; but fortunately this habit is exceptional. The panther of central India a large, powerful beast is held to be, by many experienced sportsmen, as also by native hunters, a more dangerous animal to cope with than the tiger; and both panther and leopard ascend trees with facility, a power fortunately denied to the tiger.
Not many years ago, an officer seated in a tree in company with a native fired at a panther passing below, wounding the creature severely. The panther sprang up the stem of the tree, dragged the unfortunate sportsman down to the ground, mauling him so dreadfully that he died soon after; and then actually ascended the tree a second time and killed the shikarie.
The panther, like the tiger, is direfully mischievous in killing cattle; and the leopard continually harries the flocks and herds of the villagers, often taking up its abode within a few hundred yards of the houses. Since the time of the Indian Mutiny, when the country was disarmed, leopards have greatly increased in many parts, more especially in our hill territories. In former days, almost every village possessed two or three guns; now, however, only certain individuals bearing a license from the authorities carry firearms, and in consequence wild animals are not sufficiently killed down.
The leopard is particularly addicted to carrying off dogs. The animal will seldom face a powerful dog in the open; but by creeping up unperceived and waiting for a favorable opportunity, it suddenly takes the dog at a disadvantage, fastening on to its neck, and seldom quitting its hold till the strength of its victim is exhausted. In spite of broad iron collars garnished with spikes for a protection, large-sized, valuable sheep-dogs are very often carried off by leopards in the valleys of the Himalaya.
Among our Indian carnivora are three species of bear. Two of these, the brown and Himalayan black bear, are confined to our northern hill regions. The third species (Ursa labiatus) is only found in the plains of India, or rather in our lower ranges of hills, for it is found in the Neilgherries of Madras. The last-named species never eats flesh, subsisting chiefly on wild fruit, various roots, grain, termites, and honey; but the two Himalayan species undoubtedly occasionally kill sheep, goats, and cows, and devour the flesh.
A number of deaths are annually laid to the charge of the bear tribe. Woodcutters are often brought in terribly torn and disfigured. Sometimes individual cases occur when the bear attacks a man without the slightest provocation. A she-bear with cubs is perhaps more jealous of human beings approaching her young than any other quadruped. She will at such times furiously attack and pursue any one coming near to her whelps, often inflicting terrible wounds with her teeth and claws; but never, as we so constantly read, does she, on coming to close quarters, attempt to hug or squeeze a man in her powerful grasp.
Though in general nocturnal, all three species of the Indian bear will sometimes be met with in the daytime, more especially during the rainy season, when the grass and jungle grow thick and matted. At such times, in out-of-the-way spots where the forest remains undisturbed, the Himalayan black bear will be met with searching for acorns below clumps of oak-trees, or amidst the branches gathering the fruit; and just before nightfall, a black, shuffling object will sometimes be met with on the public road. But, as a rule, if left alone, a bear will seldom molest a human being.
One other animal of the carnivora, the bhériá, or "Indian wolf", has to be noted to complete the list, and this animal justly carries a bad reputation for destroying life. There is something peculiarly horrible in the character of the Indian wolf. He hardly ever will face a man or a woman, but makes children his chief prey. In some of our northern provinces, more especially Oude and parts of Rohilkund, as also throughout the north-western provinces of Bengal, the loss of life from wolves is terribly great. Unlike the larger felidæ, which are all nocturnal in habits, the wolf which belongs to the canidæ family constantly wanders about in search of prey in the daytime. At night young children are often taken from their beds, or when lying asleep in the open air. It is the habit of the animal to lie in wait in some patch of sugarcane or Indian corn in close proximity to a village. There the fell brute bides his time, watching a party of poor naked urchins at play, till presently one of the group strays from his comrades and approaches near to the crouching foe. There is a sudden cry, and a glimpse of a brown object making off. But a rescue is seldom effected in time, for the wolf generally destroys his victim before assistance can be rendered.
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