Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bengal Tiger hunting and the British Masters - Colonial India - 01

Colonial India-Tiger hunting expedition. sillyfunda.wordpress

British Raj.Shooting of tiger.www.spectator.co
Getting a respite from the daily monotonous life, be it office  or company work is important for us because it gives us a break, change in our regular work schedule. For the past several decades, working people  world over, on the week ends, have taken to such recreations as  hiking, fishing, camping, boating, etc not only for relaxation, but also for adventure, that develops physical as well as mental endurance. Once people are into it, as the time goes by, they  gain more experience in a particular area of recreation. It is fun and there is no peer pressure in this kind of extra-curricular activity.

Hunting of animals and birds  is one of the recreations for men for several centuries and because of uncontrolled hunting in the past,many majestic animals, birds etc almost have either disappeared  or are facing extinction. Consequently  hunting is  now allowed on a limited scale in many countries using special permit issued by the government. Despite strict  banning of hunting of many endangered animals and birds in many
countries  including India, poaching by  certain unscrupulous gangs has  become a menace to the government.

Thousands of tigers were killed by Indian and British nobility voices. nationalgeographic.com
Tiger, that belongs to the cat family, is a beautiful animal. Since dawn of civilization, people have  had great fascination  for this animal for its extraordinary physical strength, fearsome appearance and ferocious nature and have never failed to keep a distance from them. This wild animal has been a symbol of courage and strength. It is a pathetic fact that tigers' most significant predators are human beings.

Now, tiger population in India  is not in a comfortable position, coupled with low reproduction in captivity. In the last 20th century in India, the population of this wild cat has come down tremendously for many reasons. One of them being continuous tiger hunting during colonial and Mogul periods. During the former, it was a well-known popular recreation among the British. Hunting was a time consuming and  tedious sports game - some times it would take  more than 15 days  to get to the tiger habitat in the deeper part  of the thick jungles. Further, it requires meticulous  preparations before hand - sufficient food, water, camping gear, medicine and trained jungle guides, proper weapons,etc. Most importantly, rainy season was not a good bet  because of lack of access to the forest and unusual wet ground conditions. 


The government has many conservation projects to safeguard not only tiger, but also other wild animals such as lion, leopards, etc which are also facing similar situation.
Tiger hunting in British India Europeans - real plunderers of wildlife.tigertribe.net 
The tiger has historically been a well-known big game animal and has been hunted for prestige as well as for taking trophies. In India, tiger was found as early as the era of the Indus Valley Civilization. Terracotta figurines of tiger have been reported from Harappa. However, there is not much evidence till the rule of the Moguls. Moguls who ruled the country for more than three hundred years (1526-1857) took keen interest in Shikar (hunting for sport) in N.India. Shikar, being the main sporting event  of royal families, it used to be a highly organized,but tiring affair. A paraphernalia of people used to accompany them led by jungle guides who knew the areas well. Unlike hunting in the 20th century, during the reins of  Moguls and Maharajahs, tiger  hunting was on a low key and their  activities never impacted the tiger population. Shikar did not do much damage to the wildlife because swords and arrows were the only weapons  used to kill the animals. It is true that Moguls and other royal families did indulge in ''Shikar'' on a limited basis and saw to it their population did not dwindle.

With the advent of use of gun powder for canons and subsequent arrival  of Europeans in particular British, there  had been a gradual spurt in Shikar activities in many jungles of Bengal and adjacent states. The British  in the beginning were traders and in course of time, they expanded their mercantile actives under the British East India company across many areas of India. After having satisfied with the safety of their families in a strange land with different culture, later they brought their families, cooks, et al from England to lead family life.
 

When their company work  reached a comfortable level, in between their work and land expansion activities, the employees of British East India company and their representatives needed a recreation and they found tremendous opportunity in hunting in the thick jungles of India.

As part of their land  expansion work, etc they faced serious threats from wild animals especially lions, tigers, leopard, etc because their work frequently took them through wooded areas infested with wild beasts. Better technical advances in ballistic weapons like guns, rifles, etc came handy for them to confront the wild beasts. This gradually led to the slow decline of big cats in their habitats.

With further development of telegraph and railways in mid 1800s, the new modern transport developments took the British farther deep in the heart land of jungles of the Indian subcontinent and the untouched wild life habitats were the first casualty. As progress further made in coal development and railway coach productions, etc, more forest areas were very much affected because they needed wood for the railway coach factories and coal for steam engine operations. Not only did the British like tiger hunting to keep their  skin and head as a mark of their adventure, courage and hunting skills, but also the Indian Maharajahs and Nawobs developed  a special taste in this sport because of easy availability of modern weapons. Taxidermists, during the colonial time, were busy carefully preserving the dead jungle animals, including exotic ones restoring them to real life as trophies. Colonial period was an era of tiger killing with reckless abandon. 


Some Indian rulers went one step ahead, besides throwing  fancy parties with  booze and ball room dances with ballerina, they frequently conducted  a joint hunting expedition in the woods to take shots at the big cats. It used to be a weekly or fortnightly extravaganza  with the Kings and lords, generals, British Bobs and their Memsahibs in large parties carried by several trained elephants - as many as 20 to 40 with all their paraphernalia including specially trained  and sturdy men and jungle guides. The chivalrous, trigger happy English men were literally mesmerized by the hospitality of the affluent Indian rulers. It was an opportunity for them to tame the wild, untamed beast native to Indian land.They took so much pride, in the  Victorian and Edwardian sense, in the level of their royalty, aristocracy, machismo and skill. The  picture of British royals and other dignitaries being photographed standing aside the slain  tigers along with their affluent Indian hosts drew the attention of people world over. Actually it was a trophy and symbol of their far superior skill in the  successful conquests of Indian forestland by ''presumptuous  imperialists".

 The wholesale slaughter was carried out by the British, tagging the big cats as ''Villains of Indian Jungles''horrible, bloodthirsty beasts with an unquenchable desire for human flesh.


 According to historian Mahesh Rangarajan, “over 80,000 tigers were slaughtered in 50 years from 1875 to 1925.''The promulgation of Forest Act of 1878,'' placed over one-fifth of the landmass of South Asia directly under British control, making the British India's forestry department not only the largest land manager in the Sub Continent but also one of the largest forestry enterprises in the world. Later the British introduced hunting permits for hunting, and limited the permits among Indians as well as British subjects. After 1878 British - mainly forest officials were after the wild cat with a view to dominating natural environment.
 

British officer Captain A. Mundy in his 1933 book ‘Pen and Pencil Sketches, (in the Journal of a Tour of India ) mentioned that in a short period of two hours the British  Shikari, on a lucky day, had killed three tigers in tandem. If these English gentle men
were alive to-day and be active Shikaries 

with same unabated zeal, they would have almost exterminated these beautiful creatures of nature - tigers to the point of extinction. 

The Wildlife Institute of India’s 2008 estimate, a far more accurate camera trap survey, counted just 1,411 adult tigers.Two years later, another census raised tiger estimates to 1,706.Indeed, a dismal picture of India's big cats.It's likely, they might become  tigers of the past like saber-toothed tiger with very long canine teeth that roamed the planet 11,000 years ago.

Ref:  
Perry, Richard (1965). The World of the Tiger. p. 260. ASIN: B0007DU2IU.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_hunting

http:/voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/03/10/a-concise-history-of-tiger-hunting-in-india