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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XXI


Houdahs and howdah-ropes—Mussulman custom—Killing animals for food—Mysterious appearance of natives when an animal is killed— Fastening dead tigers to the pad—Present mode wants improving— Incident illustrative of this—Dangerous to go close to wounded tigers— Examples—Footprints of tigers—Call of the tiger—Natives and their powers of description—How to beat successfully for tiger—Description of a best—Disputes among the shooters—Awarding tigers—Cutting open the tiger—Native idea about the liver of the tiger—Signs of a tiger's presence in the jungle—Vultures—Do they scent their quary or view it?—A vulture carrion feast.

The best howdahs are light, single-seated ones, with strong, light frames of wood and cane-work, and a movable seat with a leather strap, adjustable to any length, on which to lean back. They should have a strong iron rail all round the top, covered with leather, with convenient grooves to receive the barrels of the guns, as they rest in front, ready to either hand. In front there should be compartments for different kinds of cartridges; and pockets and lockers under the seat, and at the back, or wherever there is room. Outside should be a strong iron step, to get out and in by easily, and a strong iron ring, through which to pass the rope that binds the howdah to the elephant.

You cannot be too careful with your howdah ropes. A chain is generally used as an auxiliary to the rope, which should be of cotton, strong and well twisted, and should be overhauled daily, to see that there is no chafing. It is passed round the foot-bars of the howdah, and several times round the belly of the elephant. Another rope acts as a crupper behind, being passed through rings in the terminal frame-work of the howdah, and under the elephant's tail;frequently causes painful sores there, and some drivers give-it a hitch round the tail, in the same way as you would hitch it round a post. Another steadying rope goes round the elephant's breast, like a chest-band. "A merciful man is merciful to his beast." You should always, therefore, have a sheet of soft well-oiled leather to go between the chest and belly ropes and the elephant's hide; this prevents dialing, and is a great relief to the poor old hathie, as they call the elephant. Hatnee is the female elephant. Duntar is a fellow with large tusks, and mukna is an elephant with small downward growing tusks.

Many of the old-fashioned howdahs are far too heavy; a firm, strong howdah should not weigh more than 28 lbs. In most of the old-fashioned ones there is a seat for an attendant. If your attendant be a Mussulman, he hurries down as soon as you shoot a deer, to cut its throat. The Mohammedan religion enjoins a variety of rules on its professors in regard to the slaying of animals for food. Chief of these is a prohibition against eating the flesh of an animal that has died a natural death; the throat of every animal intended to be eaten should be cut, and at the moment of applying the knife, Bismillah should be said, that is, "In the name of God." If therefore your mahout, or attendant, belong to the religion of the Koran, he will hurry down to cut the throat of a wounded deer if possible before life is extinct; if it be already dead, lie will leave it alone for the Hindoos, who have no such scruples.

A number of moosahurs, banturs, gwallas, and other idlers, from the jungle villages, generally follow hi the wake of the line. If you shoot many pigs, they carry off the dead bodies, and hold high carnival in their homes in the evening. To See them rush on a slain buffalo, and hack it to pieces, is a curious sight; they fight for pieces of flesh like so main vultures. Sportsmen generally content themselves with the head of a buffalo, but not a scrap of the carcase is ever wasted. The natives are attracted to the spot, like ants to a heap of grain, or wasps to an old sugar barrel; they seem to spring out of the earth, so rapidly do they make their appearance. If you were to kill a dozen buffaloes, I believe all the flesh would be taken away to the neighbouring villages within an hour.

This appearance of men in the jungles is wonderful. You may think yourself in the centre of a vast wilderness, not a sign of human habitation for miles around; on all sides stretches a vast ocean of grass, the resort of ferocious wild animals, seemingly untrodden by a human foot. You shoot a deer, a pig, or other animal whose flesh is fit for food; the man behind you gives a cry, and in ten minutes you will have a group of brawny young fellows around your elephant, eager to carry away the game. The way these natives thread the dense jungle is to me a wonder; they seem to know every devious path and hidden recess, and they traverse the most gloomy and dangerous solitudes without betraying the slightest apprehension.

In fastening dead game to the pad of the carrying elephant, great care is necessary. Some elephants are very timid, and indeed all elephants are mistrustful and suspicious of anything behind them. They are pretty courageous 'n facing anything before them, but they do not like a rustling c indeed any motion in their rear. I have seen a dog put an elephant to flight, and if you have a lazy hathi, a good plan is to walk a horse behind him. He will then shuffle along at a prodigious pace, constantly looking round from side to side, and no doubt in his heart anathematising the horse that forces the running so persistently.

The present method of roughly lashing on dead game anyhow requires altering. Some ingenious sportsman could surely devise a system of slings by which the dead weight of the game could be more equally distributed. At present the dead bodies are hauled up at random, and fastened anyhow.

The pad gets displaced, the elephant must stop till the burden is rearranged; the ropes, especially on a hot day, cut into the skin and rub off the hair, and many a good skin is quite spoiled by the present rough method of tying on the pad.

One day, in taking off a dead tiger from the pad, near George's bungalow, the end of the rope (a new one) remained somehow fixed to the neck of the elephant. When he rose up, being relieved of the weight, he dragged the dead tiger with him. This put the elephant into a horrible funk, and despite all the efforts of the driver he started off at a trot, hauling the tiger after him. Every now and then he would turn round, and tread and kick the lifeless carcase. At length the rope gave way, and the elephant became more manageable, but not before a fine skin had been totally ruined, all owing to this primitive style of fastening by ropes to the pad. A proper pad, with leather straps and buckles, that could be hauled as tight as necessary—a sort of harness arrangement—could easily be devised, to secure dead game on the pad. I am certain it would save time in the hunting-field, and protect many a fine skin, that gets abraded and marked by the present rough and ready lashing.

It is always dangerous to go too close up to a wounded tiger, and one should never rashly jump to the conclusion that a tiger is dead because he appears so. Approach him cautiously, and make very certain that he is really and truly dead, before you venture to get down beside the body. It is a bad plan to take your elephant close up to a dead tiger at all. I have known cases, where good staunch elephants have been spoiled for future sport, by being rashly taken up to a wounded tiger. In rolling about, the tiger may get hold of the elephants, and inflict injuries that will demoralise them, and make them quite unsteady on subsequent occasions.

I have known cases where a tiger left for dead has had to be shot over again. I have seen a man get down to pull a seemingly dead tiger into the open, and get charged.

Fortunately it was a flying effort, and I put a bullet through the skull before the tiger could reach the frightened peon. We have been several times grouped round a dying tiger, watching him breathe his last, when the brute has summoned up strength for a final effort, and charged the elephants.

On one occasion W. I). had got clown beside what he thought a dead tiger, had rolled him over, and, tape in hand, was about to measure the animal, when he staggered to his feet with a terrific- growl, and made away through the jungle, lie had only been stunned, and fortunately preferred running to fighting, or the consequences might have been more tragic; as it was, he was quickly followed up and killed. But instances like these might be indefinitely multiplied, all teaching, that seemingly dead tigers should be approached with the utmost respect. Never venture off your elephant without a loaded revolver.

In beating for tiger, we have seen that the appearance of the kill, whether fresh or old, whether much torn and mangled or comparatively untouched, often affords valuable indications to the sportsman. The footprints are not less narrowly looked for, and scrutinised. If we are after tiger, and following them up, the captain will generally get down at any bare place, such as a dry nullah, the edge of a tank or water hole, or any other spot where footprints can be detected. Fresh prints can be very easily distinguished. The impression is like that made by a dog, only much larger, and the marks of the claws are not visible. The largest footprint I have heard of was measured by George S., and was found to be eight and a quarter inches wide from the outside of the first to the outside of the fourth toe. If a tiger has passed very recently, the prints will be fresh-looking, and if on damp ground there can be no mistaking them. If it has been raining recently, we particularly notice whether the ram has obliterated the track at all, in any place; which would lead us to the conclusion that the tiger had passed before it mined. It' the water has lodged in the footprint, the tiger has passed alter the shower. In fresh prints the water wilt he slightly puddly or muddy In old prints it will he quite clear ; and so on.

The call of the male tiger is quite different from that of the female. The male calls with a hoarse harsh cry, something between the grunt of a pig and the bellow of a bull; the call of the tigress is more like the prolonged mew of a cat much intensified. During the pairing season the call is sharper and shorter, and ends in a sudden break. At that time, too, they cry at more frequent intervals. The roar of the tiger is quite unlike the call. Once heard it is not easily forgotten. The natives who live in the jungles can tell one tiger from another by colour, size, &c., and they can even distinguish one animal from another by his call. It is very absurd to hear a couple of natives get together and describe the appearance of some tiger they have seen.

In describing a pig, they refer to his height, or the length of his tusks. They describe, a fish by putting their fists together, and saying he was so thick, itna mota. The head of a tiger is always the most conspicuous part of the body seen in the jungle. They therefore are variably describe him by his head. One man will hold his two hands apart about two feet, and say that the head was itna burra, that is, so big. The other, not to be outdone, gives rein to his imagination, and adds another foot. The first immediately fancies discredit will attach to his veracity, and vehemently asserts that there must in that case have been two tigers; and so they go on, till they conclusively prove, that two tigers there must have been, and indeed, if you let them go on, they will soon assure you that, besides the pair of tigers, there must be at least a pair of half-grown cubs. Their imaginations are very fertile, and you must take the information of a native as to tigers with a very large pinch of salt.

For successful tiger shooting much depends on the beating. When after tiger, general firing should on no account be allowed, and the line should move forward as silently as possible. In light cover, extending over a large area, the elephants should be kept a considerable distance apart, but in thick dense cover the line should be quite close, and beat up slowly and thoroughly, as a tiger may lay up and allow the line to pass him. On no account should an elephant be let to lag behind, and no one should be allowed to rush forward or go in advance. The elephants should move along, steady and even, like a moving wall, the fastest being on the flanks, and accommodating their pace to the general rate of progress. No matter what tempting chances at pig or deer you may have, you must on no account fire except at tiger.

The captain should be in the centre, and the men on the flanks ought to be constantly on the qui vim, to see that no cunning tiger outflanks the line. The attention should never wander from the jungle before you, for at any moment a tiger may get up—and I know of no sport where it is necessary to be so continuously on the alert. Every moment is fraught with intense excitement, and when a tiger does really show his stripes before you, the all-absorbing eager excitement of a lifetime is packed in a few brief moments. Not a chance should be thrown away, a long, or even an uncertain shot, is better than none, and if you make one miss, you may not have another chance again that day: for the tiger is chary of showing his stripes, and thinks discretion the better part of valour.

All the line of course are aware, as a rule, when a tiger is on the move, and a good captain (and Joe S., who generally took the direction of our beats, could not well be matched) will wheel the line, double, turn, march, and countermarch, and fairly run the tiger down. At such a time, although you may not actually see the tiger, the excitement is tremendous. You stand erect in the howdah, your favourite gun ready; your attendant behind is as excited as yourself, and sways from side to side to peer into the gloomy depths of the jungle; in front, the mahout wriggles on his seat, as if by his motion he could urge the elephant to a quicker advance. He digs his toes savagely into his elephant behind the ear; the line is closing up; every eye is fixed on the moving jungle ahead. The roaring of the flames behind, and the crashing of the dried reeds as the elephants force their ponderous frames through the intertwisted stems and foliage, are the only sounds that greet the ear. Suddenly you see the tawny yellow hide, as the tiger slouches along. Your gun rings out a reverberating challenge, as your fatal bullet speeds on its errand. To right and left the echoes ring, as shot after shot is fired at the bounding robber. Then the line closes up, and you form a circle round the stricken beast, and watch his mighty limbs quiver in the death-agony, and as he falls over dead, and powerless for further harm, you raise the heartfelt, pulse-stirring cheer, that finds an echo in every brother sportsman's heart.

Disputes sometimes arise as to whose bullet first drew blood. These are settled by the captain, and from his decision there is no appeal. Many sportsmen put peculiar marks on their bullets, by which they can be recognised, which is a good plan. In an exciting scrimmage every one blazes at the tiger, not one bullet perhaps in five or six takes effect, and every one is ready to claim the skin, as having been pierced with Ids particular bullet. Disputes are not very common, but an inspection of the wounds, and the bullets found in the body, generally settle the question. After hearing all the pros and cons, the captain generally succeeds in awarding the tiger to the right man.

After a successful day, the news rapidly spreads through the adjacent country, and we may take the line a little out of our way to make a sort of triumphal procession through the villages. On reaching the camp there is sure to be a great crowd waiting to see the slain tigers, the despoders of the people's flocks and herds.

It is then you hear of all the depredations the dead robber has committed, and it is then you begin to form some faint conception of his enormous destructive powers. Villager after villager unfolds a talc of some favourite heifer, or buffalo, or cow having been struck down, and the copious vocabulary of Hindostanee Billingsgate is almost exhausted, and floods of abuse poured out on the prostrate head.

On cutting open the tiger, parasites are frequently found in the flesh. These are long, white, thread-like worms, and are supposed by some to be Guinea worms. Huge masses of undigested bone and hair art; sometimes taken from the intestines, showing that the tiger does not "waste much time on mastication, but tears and eats the flesh in large masses. The liver is found to have numbers of separate lobes, and the natives-say that this is an infallible test of the age of a tiger, as a separate lobe forms on the liver for each year of the tiger's life. I have certainly found young tigers having but two and three lobes, and old tigers I have found with six, seven, and even eight, but the statement is entirely unsupported by careful observation, and requires authentication before it can be accepted.

A reported kill is a pretty certain sign that there are tigers in the jungle, but there are other signs with which one soon gets familiar. When, for example, you hear deer calling repeatedly, and see them constantly on the move, it is a sign that tiger are in the neighbourhood. When cattle are reluctant to enter the jungle, restless, and unwilling to graze, you may be sure tiger are somewhere about, not far away. A kill is often known by the numbers of vultures that hover about in long, sailing, steady circles. "What multitudes of vultures there are. Over head, far up in the liquid ether, you see them circling round and round like dim specks in the distance; farther and farther away, till they seem like bees, then lessen and fade into the infinitude of space. Xo part of the sky is ever free from their presence. When a kill has been perceived, you see one come flying along, strong and swift in headlong flight. With the directness of a thunderbolt he speeds to where his loathsome meal lies sweltering in the noonday sun. As he comes nearer and nearer, his repulsive-looking body assumes form and substance. The cruel, ugly bald head, drawn close in between the strong pointed shoulders, the broad powerful wings, with their wide sweep, measured and slow, bear him swiftly past. With a curve and a sweep be circles round, down come the long bony legs, the bald and hideous neck is extended, and with talons quivering for the rotting flesh, and cruel beak agape, he hurries on to his repast, the embodiment of everything ghoul-like and ghastly. In his wake comes another, then twos and threes, anon tens and twenties, till hundreds have collected, and the ground is covered with the hissing, tearing, fiercely clawing crowd-It is a horrible sight to see a heap of vultures battling over a dead bullock. I have seen them so piled up that the under ones were nearly smothered to death; and the writhing contortions of the long bare necks, as the fierce brutes battled with talons and claws, were like the twisting of monster snakes, or the furious writhing of gorgons and furies over some fated victim.

It has been a much debated point with sportsmen and naturalists, whether the eye or the sense of smell guides the vulture to his feast of carrion. 1 have often watched them.TIica scan the vast surface spread below them with a piercing and never-tiring gaze. They observe each other. When one is seen to cease his steady circling flight, far up :n mid air, and to stretch his broad wings earthwards, the others know that he has espied a meal, and follow his lead; and these in turn are followed by others, till from all quarters ilock crowds of these scavengers of the sky. They can detect a dog or jackal from a vast height, and they know by intuition that, where the carcase is there will the dogs and jackals be gathered. I think there can be no doubt that the vision is the sense they are most indebted to for directing them to their food.

On one occasion T remember seeing a tumultuous heap of them, battling fiercely, as I have just tried to describe, over the carcases of two tigers we had killed near Dumdaha. The dead bodies were hidden partially in a grove of trees, and for a long time there were only some ten or a dozen vultures near. These gorged themselves so fearfully, that they could not rise from the ground, but lay with wings expanded, looking very aldermanic and apoplectic. Bye-and-bye, however, the rush began, and by tbe time we had struck the tents, there could not have been fewer than 150 vultures, hissing and spitting at each other like angry cats; trampling each other to the dust to get at the carcases; and tearing wildly with talon and beak for a place. In a very short time nothing but mangled bones remained. A great number of the vultures got on to the rotten limb of a huge mango tree. One other proved the last straw, for down came the rotten branch and several of the vultures, tearing at each other, fell heavily to the ground, where they lay quite helpless. As an experiment we shot a miserable, mangy pariah dog that was prowling about the ground seeking garbage and offal. He was shot stone dead, and for a time no vulture ventured near. A crow was the first to begin the feast of death. One of the hungriest of the vultures next approached, and in a few minutes the yet warm body of the poor dog was torn into a thousand fragments, till nothing remained but scattered and disjointed bones.


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