Ryseree—A decaying village—Ravages of the river—Joe's yarn— The ruined
shrine—"Sign" of tiger—The bamboo thicket-—A foolhardy resolve—Tracking
tiger on all fours—Inside the thicket—Inside the enclosure—Inside the temple
—The bats— "Alone with a man-eater"—The tigress at bay—"Minutes that seem
like hours"—Well done, good revolver—"Never again on foot"—Wild beast
statistics from The Saturday Review.
"I fancy, Mac," said Butty,
"that was about the narrowest 'hutch' you ever had in your life." ("Hutch"
is from "bufchana," to escape.)
"Never a closer," said Mac;
"I thought it was all up with me once or twice."
"How did you feel?" I asked.
"Well, I can hardly tell you.
Whenever I recognised that the brute was on me, I felt at once my only
chance of safety was to lie perfectly still. Once or twice the oppression on
my face from the pressure of the heavy canvas was almost suffocating, and
when the huge tusk buried itself in the earth close to my side, I could
scarcely refrain from calling out."
"It must have grazed your
"It did. After that, I seemed
to turn quite unconcerned. All sorts of funny ideas came trooping across my
brain. I couldn't, for the life of me, help feeling cautiously about for my
pipe, which had dropped somewhere near, when I tripped on the ropes. I
seemed, too, to have a quick review of all the actions I had ever done, and
was just dropping off into a dreamy unconsciousness, after pulling a
desperate race against Oxford with my old crew, when your voices roused me
to sensation once more."
Said Joe, "Well, do you know,
I have had the same sensations exactly, during one very narrow squeak I once
"Which one was that?" said
"Can't you remember the
buehao (escape) I had in the Ryseree mundil (temple)?"
"Ah, yes! Tell them that. By
Jove, that was a squeak, and no mistake!"
By this time our curiosity
was all aflame, and there was a general cry of, "Come on, Joe, let's have
"Tamaco lao!" shouted Mac,
that being equivalent in English to "Bring thjs tobacco!" and the
white-robed old bearer appeared at the bidding; entering noiselessly from
the outside gloom, as if a spectre, summoned by a cabalistic spell from the
shadowy realms of spirit-land, had entered on the scene.
Another boy followed him,
bearing the Agdan, that is, a small brass or silver salver, containing
pieces of glowing charcoal. Along with this fire-dish (they are often
beautifully carved, and form a handsome ornament), the boy presented to each
smoker a pair of "chimtas," or small silver tongs, with which the ruddy
charcoal is lifted, and put into the bowl of the pipe; and while Mac was
nearly burning his rubicund proboscis, in the attempt to ignite his strong
moist tobacco, I may as well describe the locale of Joe's exciting
I knew Ryseree well. It was a
straggling village, on the right bank of the main stream of the Koosee, and
had once been a place of considerable importance. The encroachments of the
stream had laid waste to many of its once fertile rice fields. The
magnificent tanks, which had been excavated with such patient care, and at
such a vast expenditure of labour by the villagers of some far-away remote
time—so remote that even tradition failed to crystallise a single fact
concerning them—were many of them now choked up with sand and matted growth
of water-plants. Very few houses in the once populous and thriving town were
now occupied. Tumble-down frameworks of rotting bamboos and mouldering
thatch, festooned by rank luxuriant trailing creepers and wild gourds, lay
scattered all round the open area, like an aggregation of big green
Round the environs of the
dismantled village, white gnarled mango trees, denuded of bark und bare of
leaves, stretched out their gaunt arms, as if beseeching pity for their
forsaken greenery and stripped condition. The soil all around was dank and
clammy and moist. Here and there a huge embankment of sand, with a mound of
brushwood and matted debris, showed where the annual floods tore down from
the "terai," sweeping everything before them in their devastating rush. A
few foundations of solid plastered brickwork, with rudely fashioned posts,
standing up alone, battered, charred, and slowly rotting, evidenced the
forsaken site of some wealthy grain merchant's "dukan," or granary; but the
only inhabitants now left in the village were a few humble cultivators of
the cowherd and gardening castes, with two or three Brahmin and Rajpoot
families; indigent, listless, fever-stricken, and subsisting entirely on the
produce of their reduced herds, or the crops raised from a few patches of
vetches, or rice, scattered at intervals among the tall encroaching jungle
grass, which everywhere waved its rustling tops, and surrounded the ruined
hamlet as with a belt of impenetrable, sapless, dun-coloured growth.
Such villages are common
enough in these "Dyctras" or liverine plains, all over India. Many of the
rivers that come thundering down into the plains from the Himalaya, to join
the Ganges, shape for themselves a regular channel of gradual indentation
parallel to their course. If any of my readers will take the trouble to look
at the. map, they will see that, like the ribs of a fern leaf, rivers come
running into the Ganges from both sides. Those on the north-east side, while
their current takes a southerly course, yet eat into the plain from east to
west; and in this way many of their tracks, if we may use that term, are
often many miles in width. As the river gradually works its way along, it
eats into the settled cultivated country on the one side, leaving behind it,
on the other, a wasted wilderness of sand-banks, patches of black mould on
which grows a luxuriant vegetation, deep creeks, shallow sand-bars and
stagnant lagoons; in fact, the very intricate country which I have described
as the haunt of the tiger, rhinoceros, and buffalo, the most worthless
country for culture or settlement, but the finest country in the world for
game and sport.
The once thriving village and
fertile rice-fields of Ryseree had reached just about the culminating stage
of this gradual destructive process. The rich oil and seed merchants, the
sleek Brahmins, the gallant Rajpoots with their free tread, manly forms, and
independent bearing, had grown tired of warring against continued floods and
annual irruptions of the predatory Koosee, and had sought a settlement
further away from the turbulent stream. The cattle-folds and granaries had
crumbled down, and lapsed into jungle. The bamboo topes had tangled and
twisted themselves into a dense matted impenetrable brake. The orchards of
mangoes no longer bore a single leaf. The temples were mouldering to dust.
One shrine, sacred to Khristna, was still occasionally visited by some very
aged and infirm devotee, from some far-off village, whence he had come in
his old age, to offer up a prayer and deposit a few flowers once more before
he died at the shrine where he hid worshipped in his vigorous early manhood
ere yet the terrible Koosee had swept away the glory of the village.
It was a dreary place. The
village "collections" were always in arrear. The chief item in the annual
revenue was the fee charged at so much per head, on the foreign cattle that
were driven every year after the subsidence of the floods, to graze on the
fat pasture that then sprung up on the deserted clearings, now almost
unrecognisable from the original jungle. Great herds of these cattle were
driven to this part of the Dyarah, as a favourite feeding ground, and, as a
direct consequence, tigers were plentiful, and a "drive" through the Eyseree
ilakci, or jurisdiction, was always regarded as a sure "find."
And now to let Joe tell his
We were all attention. Our
pipes were "drawing" beautifully. The night was but young. There was little
danger of "Shumsher" again putting in an appearance, and while the "nokcr
chakur" (servants) cleared up the wreck of the "shamiana" outside, and put
things generally to rights, Joe, with a loud a-hem, commenced.
"Ye know, boys, I'm no bad at
spinning a yarn, and I would much rather George pitched it to ye. He could
do it better than I can, and he was with me at the time."
"I remember the incident
well," said George, "but I never poach."
"Blaze away, Joe, and you'll
soon come to the end of it!"
"Well," said Joe, "it was a
good many years ago now, when my old father was alive; and he would seldom
allow us to have any of the factory elephants to go out after a tiger,
unless he went with us himself. On this occasion, George and I had got the
loan of a few 'beater' elephants, from the dehaat (surrounding country). It
was the first time we had gone out by ourselves, and we were full of ardour
"We had beaten all over the
Bamnattea tuppra (tuppra is 'an island') round by Shikargunje and Burgamma,
and had put up nothing but a few pig and hog-deer. It was an intensely hot
day. "We kept filing the jungle as we went along, and about two in the
afternoon we stopped near Rokureea Ghat (ferry) to have some tiffin (lunch).
"While munching our
dalpattees (a kind of cake) and drinking some milk, which a polite Bataneea
(cowherd) had presented to us, a man came over in the boat and told us that
there was a man-eating tiger over at Eyseree. We sent over one of our own
peons to fossick out more information, and he soon came back with a
confirmation of the report, and in a very short time we had swum our
elephants across, and were making for the supposed lair of the tiger as fast
as we could go; and you know, Maori, what sort of a elehant it is," said
Joe, turning to me.
"Awful bad travelling," I
assented; "I know the place."
"There was not much jungle
about the village then," Joe continued, "and we beat every possible patch we
could think of as a likely spot, but coming on no 'sign,' we began to think
we had been hoaxed, and were inclined to give up further attempts for that
day at least, in no very amiable mood.
"Close by one of the tanks—a
small tank, with its surface so covered by a dense carpeting of weeds that
an incautious elephant might even have been deceived, and have plunged in,
thinking it was dry land—there grew a solitary semul, or cotton tree. All
round it was a dense, matted, inextricably tangled, wild growth of bamboos,
laced together with creepers and climbing plants, and through the
close-clustered, clinging maze we could discern the grey, weather-stained,
domed roof of a temple, with great cracks gaping in the masonry, and the
iron trident on the top, twisted, bent, and rust-eaten, hanging down over
part of the roof. Amid the clefts of the masonry a few sinuous creepers had
effected a lodgment, especially one broad-leaved, shady peepml tree (the
fieus indicus). The shade below was dark as the mouth of a cave, and the
ground was moist and yielding, while the elephants sank a foot deep into it
every time we went near it. It was so matted and wet, the creepers clung and
intertwined so closely and tenaciously together, that I never imagined it
would hide a tiger, and, indeed, we would not have thought of beating
through it, had not the mahout on George's elephant directed our attention
to a few scratches on the bark of the tree, which, very excitedly, he
affirmed to be the marks of a tiger's claws.
"We both laughed at the idea,
for the marks were fully eleven feet off the ground, and we never imagined a
tiger could reach up that height."
"I've seen marks higher up a
tree than tht," said Mac.
"So have I since," said Joe,
"but at that time we were rather incredulous. However, I was determined to
be satisfied, and, getting down, I commenced to crawl through the brake in
order to get to the trunk of the tree. Very fortunately for me, as you will
see in a minute, I took my pistol with me. It was that identical pistol,"
said the narrator, pointing to a handsome ivory-handled Thomas's patent
lying on the table. "You know it, all of you. It carries a heavy bullet,
with a good charge, and is no toy at close quarters, as my story will prove
"Why did you get off the
elephant?" said Butty. "That was surely a foolish thing to do."
"Ye don't catch this child
doin' such griff-like, tricks," said Pat.
"Well, I have learned more
caution since," said Joe; "but the fact is, both George and I were afraid
there might have been an eenar (well) about the place, with perhaps blocks
of masonry, and, to tell the truth, I don't think any elephant could have
forced his way through such a tangled clump."
"I remember, too," put in
George, "that the edge of the tank was rotten, and the ground panky (stiff
moist clay), and we were afraid of getting the elephants bogged, let alone
tumbling them down a well. Besides, we never for a moment dreamed we would
come upon 'old stripes' there after having been all over the place, and got
never a sign. Go on, Joe."
"I got through to the tree
with some difficulty, and there, sure enough, were the footprints of a large
tiger, as distinct as any one might wish to see. The ground showed marks all
over a space of several yards in circumference. The tiger had evidently been
stretching itself up against the tree, and cleaning its nails on the bark.
The scratchings on the bark were quite plain, and seemed of very recent
date, as the white milky juice had scarcely yet dried on the tree.
"I narrowly scrutinised the
whole surroundings. I could see at one portion where the huge brute must
have slipped a little on the edge of the tank while drinking. The water was
yet muddy where it had flowed into the track of the claws. It was hot,
sultry, and still. The perspiration streamed from me. I called out to George
that there were signs of tiger sure enough, and very fresh signs, too, but
did not think the brute was now in the covert.
"Are there any signs of a
kill?' cried George.
"I can't see any, but I'll have a look,' I answered; and then creeping on
hands and knees, cutting away a twig here and a creeper there, I slowly made
my way inwards, knife in hand, and my pistol ready in my belt. I penetrated
yet farther and farther into the dark, noisome, gloomy tangle of matted
"But hang it all, man alive!
was there a tiger inside?" burst forth Butty.
"Wait a bit, and you'll
hear!" said Joe.
"Dry up, Wheels! Go on, Joe,"
Joe resumed his yarn.
"As I advanced farther and
farther through the tortuous, intricate path I was forcing for myself, the
sounds of the elephants and talking of the men grew fainter and. fainter.
The shade, too, deepened, and grew gloomier; and full of bounding health and
spirits as I was, I could not repress a sort of shudder as I crept deeper
and deeper into the heart of the bansirarree (bamboo brake).
''I could hear George crying
out occasionally, and 1 answered as well as I could. After one response, I
could have almost sworn I heard a rustling and stealthy creaking, as if some
animal were forcing a way through the thicket in front of one. A cold,
creepy sensation came over me, and for a moment I could hear my heart beat
audibly. Still, I never for a moment thought there could be a tiger. Neither
of us ever imagined a tiger would have gone into such a close place, without
leaving plain traces of his presence. Besides, I had often heard strange
stories of the Ryseree Tza Mundil (the Ryseree Temple). The natives said it
was haunted; that there was immense treasure hidden in it, and that all
sorts of "Ihouts" (ghosts) and spirits guarded the sacred deposit."
George chimed in, "Joe had
often expressed a wish to explore this old temple, and it was that, I think,
as much as anything, that led him to be so foolhardy."
"Well, but the tiger! " said
"Hold on, man," says Pat,
"hurry no man's cattle, you might have a donkey of your own some day."
"Faith an' I'd never buy you,
Pat, at any rate."
"Oh, shut up, you fellows"!
growled old Mac. "Let's have the yarn."
"Well," continued Joe, "by
this time I was in a pretty mess with sweat and mud and muck of all sorts;
but I was now well through the encircling brake, and close up to the
mouldering wall of the old temple. Heaps of broken sculptured masonry lay
scattered about. The wooden framework of a door in the wall, hung ajar,
dropping noiselessly into dust. The shade and shelter were so complete, that
not even a breath of wind could penetrate inside, to cause the trembling
moth-eaten timber to stir. A ruined low wall, its coping all displaced, and
great ugly chasms in its continuity, surrounded a circumscribed courtyard,
literally choked with rank vegetation. Bushes started from every crevice and
every crack in the mossy flag-stones. A greenish fungus-like growth covered
all the masonry, and the smell was sickly, oppressive, and suggestive of
rottenness. Everything spoke of ruin and decay and desolation—but desolate
and dreary as the spot appeared, it wanted not inhabitants. As I shook from
myself the dank leaves and withered twigs, and once more stood erect, a
skulking jackal slouched over the crumbling wall, on the other side of the
enclosure; an odious, repulsive-looking Sapgo (a species of iguana)
slithered noiselessly through a gap among the ruins ; and numerous
large-eared bats came flapping swiftly round me, and with an eerie, uncanny
swoop and ghost-like swish, disappeared in the gloom."
"Ugh," said Butty, with a
shudder, "it must have been a lively sort of a. place? Eh, Joe?"
"Lively?" said Joe. "I tell
you I never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I'm not superstitious, as you
know, and I don't think I'm much of a funk stick either; but I'll never
forget how I felt just then, nor how earnestly I wished I was well out of
the infernal hole I had got into.
"A few cracked and crumbling
steps, slippery with slimy mould and festooned across with spiders' webs,
led up to the low frowning archway. I could yet see the little chiselled
gutter, with a stone spout, that carried away the milk poured as a libation
to the grim idol—perhaps the blood of human sacrifices, who knows?—formerly
offered to the deity whose ruined shrine I was now surveying. Having come so
far, I determined I would complete my exploration thoroughly. The temple was
one of those ordinary triple-domed affairs you see so constantly in all
these ruined Koosee villages. There is first a sort of antechamber, access
to which is got through a low-browed door. Inside is a central square
chamber, right under the biggest dome, with a black stone, placid in an oval
on the floor, and a gutter round it, to let the blood, or oil, or milk,
which are used as offerings, run away from this sacrificial stone or altar,
and in the further recess, on a sort of pedestal, in an alcove, generally
stood the idol.
"I peered into the temple. A
few straggling fitful gleams of subdued light struggled through here and
there a fissure in the rugged, massive walls; but they only served as a foil
to the Cimmerian gloom which enshrouded the whole interior. The roof was
high, vaulted, and reverberating. I could hear the swish of the horrid bats
as they circled round and round the interior of the dome. The air seemed
alive with whisperings. It was only the noise of the bat wings, but it
sounded very ghost-like and fearsome.. One would occasionally swoop almost
in my face, causing me to start back involuntarily. As my eyes became a
little more accustomed to the gloom, I could see the sinuous roots of the
fig-tree that was silently but surely piercing every crevice, insinuating
itself into every crack and cranny, and more certainly and swiftly than the
destroying hand of time itself, was hastening onward the inevitable
dissolution of the strong, massive, mysterious structure that had been built
perhaps when the Druids chanted their wild songs round the weird circle of
"Bravo, Joe! You're getting
quite poetical! " This from Butty, who was quietly replenishing his pipe.
"Oh, do shut up!" snorted
Mac. "Let him finish his yarn. He's coming to the pith of the story now."
"These roots, in some
places," continued Joe, who was evidently warming to his tale as the vivid
recollection of the scene came back to him, "looked like huge coiling snakes
as they twisted about the fractured walls and roof. But the gloom and shade
were so intense, I could not discern anything clearly inside the temple. At
the far end, beyond the indistinctly shaped arches and buttressed
projections, I could see something shining like a jewel through the gloom.
It sparkled and shone just like a brilliant in a setting of jet; and not
doubting but that it might be some tinsel round the mouldering fane in the
hidden recess, or perhaps might even be a real jewel, for such a thing was
not at all unlikely, I withdrew my head, and shouted out as loud as I could
to George, to send a fellow in with matches, that I might thoroughly explore
the gloomy interior of the murky ruin.
"I fancied then again, as the
echo of my own shout lingered round the ruin, that a sharp sibilant sound
came from the dark interior. It sounded like the 'tuff-fuH'' of an angry
cat; but imagining it to be only the hiss of a snake, or perhaps some sound
made by the bats, 1 took no further notice of it.
"From George's responsive
shout, I made out that he was hastening to join me himself; and I could,
after a short pause, hear him forcing his elephant into the bamboos; but
after a struggle, he seemed to find the task an impossibility, and retired.
"Again I called to him, and
again I thought I heard the puffing, hissing sort of a sound inside.
"Bv-and-bye, I could hear
George laboriously making his way through the brake, following the track I
had made, and swearing awfully at the prickly, spiky barrier of twigs and
creepers that impeded his progress.
"He took such a time that I
got impatient. I turned again, and peered into the dim chamber. I was
startled. Far back in the cavern-like gloomy arch, glittered two lustrous
orbs of a baleful greenish hue. Their intensity seemed to wax and wane, as
does the sparkle of a diamond as the light strikes on its facets. I was
struck dumb with astonishment for the minute. I could hear George rustling
noisily through the last opposing barrier of twigs that separated him from
me; my curiosity was now quite aflame. Strange, I felt no compunctious
visitings of fear. The presence of my brother seemed to nerve me. The
oppressive feeling of solitariness and sense of some impending danger seemed
to have left me.
"The glittering light of the
two blazing jewels seemed to expand and scintillate, and emit a yet more
intense lustre. With a cry to George, 'Come on, George!' I stooped down and
entered the close, stifling atmosphere:—the darkness seemed to swallow me
up. I strode forth; the bats surged round my head, brushing me with their
wings in wild affright. I was directly under the dome. My hands were
extended in front of me like a blind man groping in an unknown place,
when—with a roar that seemed to shake the very walls and reverberated
through the vaulted apartment, the jewels blazed like a lurid gleam of fire;
a quick convulsive spasm seized my heart as if a giant hand had clutched it
and squeezed it like a sponge, and I knew at once that I was face to face,
cooped up in this loathsome kennel, caught in a deadly trap, at one with a
"At such a time, one does not
take long to think. 'Twas then the vista of my life appeared before my
mental vision. 'Twas then a similar experience as Mac's, when he was like to
be crushed by that brute of an elephant, flashed across my brain. Every
incident of my life came trooping back to memory, quick and distinct as the
lightning flash lights up every leaf and dripping twig and falling rain-drop
in a thunderstorm on a summer's night.
"My next act was purely
instinctive. I realised, rather than thought or felt, that the brute had
been crouching back in the chamber expecting to remain undiscovered. I had
an instinctive perception that it was a cur, that it would have rather
remained hidden than fought. It was probably gorged after a heavy repast. It
must have been a coward, but my bold unceremonious entry must have been
construed into an attack. It had no escape, and, rendered fierce by
desperation, it was now springing upon me. As I say, all this flashed swift
as thought over my intelligence. It took not an instant of time. But in that
instant I grasped al! the circumstances of the case. I realised my danger,
and quick as thought I threw myself flat on my face. The echoing
reverberations of that terrible roar yet deafened me. I knew there was a
ringing sound in my ears. A huge body swept over me with a terrific rush. In
the confused jumble of sound and conflicting emotions, I heard George's
shout of dismay and terror. I seemed to dart forward, and for a minute I
breathed again. In my mechanical instinct I had darted forward. I was now
behind the pillar which supported the arch of the inner shrine. The
man-eater was rushing round the central chamber, lashing his sides with his
tail, and growling and roaring, but evidently in as great a funk as either
George or myself.
"George was shouting like the
devil outside, not knowing really what to do, and the tigress, for such she
proved to be, was such an arrant cur that she was afraid to face him.
"Here, however, was your
humble servant in as pretty a mess as you can well imagine."
"Sweet Father! I think so,"
"A devil of a fix," said Mac.
"By Jove," was all I could
think of saying while we all hung breathless on Joe's every sentence.
"Well, boys, to make a long
story short," said Joe, "I got off safe and sound, and we killed the tiger
"How was that?" we all
"This is what I did,"
continued our captain. "As you remember, I had my pistol. I was in a
dreadful funk as you may imagine, but desperation gave me a certain nerve;
and I knew that a movement or a whisper would probably bring down the fierce
brute on me; and cooped up as I was in a mere den, what chance could I have
against a real live tiger? In stretching out my hand, I could at any moment
have touched the brute. She seemed to have forgot my existence quite, and
after a few fierce boundings round the central chamber, she was now lying
crouched down, peering eagerly out at the portal where George was yelling
like a fiend to the mahouts and peons to come to him. Her head was between
me and what little light there was. Slowly I raised the pistol. At the click
of the hammer, faint as it was, she gave an ominous growl and turned her
"Now or never was the time.
"A flash that lighted up the
"Again!!— Yet again !!!
"The arched temple once more
resounded with reverberating echoes; but no roar this time from the tigress.
"She was stone dead.
"The first bullet had gone
clean into the brain.
"And now, boys," said Joe, as
he reached out his hand for the soda water and brandy bottle, "that's my
yarn, and I don't want ever again to meet a janwar of that sort, under
anything like similar circumstances"—(janwar means an animal).
Of course then the
conversation turned on the feelings of both Joe and George during the quick
but exciting succession of incidents. Various comments were made. We
congratulated Joe on his good aim and lucky escape; and George told us of
how they had taken home the tigress, having had to literally cut a passage
out into the open, to let them remove the body.
The tigress killed by Joe
under such memorable circumstances was an old mangy brute, almost toothless,
lank, lean, and almost without a shred of hair. She measured eight feet four
inches, and must have been a cowardly, timorous brute. Still it was a most
foolhardy thing of any one to venture on foot into a thick jungle of the
description above stated, when there were signs of tiger about.
Joe told me afterwards that
he must have been several times quite close to the tigress as he forced his
way through the jungle. At any moment she could have killed him with one
blow of her powerful paw, and in his after career, during his residence in
the Koosee jungles, during winch time he witnessed the death of over three
hundred tigers, scores of them falling to his own gun, Joe was never known
to move far from his line of elephants on foot, if tiger's foot-prints were
to be seen in the vicinity
Lest the "intelligent sceptic"
may be startled at the record of Joe's success as a tiger slayer, I append
the following extract from the Saturday Review of January 15, 1887 :—
"Such reading as the annual
report sent home by the Government of India on the destruction caused by
venomous snakes and noxious wild beasts, together with the measures taken
for their extermination, forcibly reminds us of the primary functions of
Government in the Indian Empire. The unremitting campaign waged against
these pests is only a minor instance of the large share of attention which
the Administration is obliged to devote to defending an inert population
against the most immediate dangers to life and property. But it will serve
its purpose as well as more conspicuous illustrations to show how
continuously the efforts of Government must be exerted in this direction,
and how impossible it is to implant and foster Western habits of
self-reliance and energy in the races of the Indian Peninsula. Their
traditional helplessness is brought into rather startling relief by an
examination of the official returns before us. We find, for instance, that
no less than 641 deaths are reported as due to jackals alone in the Bombay
Presidency, Bengal, and the North-west Provinces. The Indian jackal is by no
means a formidable beast, although it can fight in an ugly way when driven
into a corner. Jackals, it is true, will occasionally attack a chance
wanderer by night. But a mere show of determined defence is generally enough
to keep them from coming to close quarters with an adult; and these figures
are certainly higher than could be reasonably expected. A perusal of this
report, moreover, is equally calculated to astonish and enlighten people who
have a vague idea of the mischief done by snakes and wild beasts in India as
to the serious extent.
The loss of human life is
striking enough, but the del Sedations amongst cattle, which are often the
Indian peasant's only source of subsistence and well-being, must not be left
out of sight. The measures of protection under a system of Government
encouragement and reward, do not, on the contrary, make very much progress,
if we arc to judge from the report under consideration. Indeed, the death
list rose from 22,425 persons in the previous year to 22,907 in the last
twelve months. In estimating these figures, however, we must bear in mind
the tendency of Indian statistics, as common as it is illusory, for atiy
given returns to swell in proportion as improvements are effected in the
reporting agencies. This feature is certainly illustrated by the figures
before us. In one province the police were instructed for the first time
last year to report the loss amongst cattle, together with the ordinary
vital statistics which they are charged to collect, instead of sending in
the information at separate times. The result of this consolidation of their
duties was that something like a third more cattle were returned as
destroyed, although the Local Government remarks that there is 'no reason to
suppose that there had been any increase in the actual number of deaths.' At
the same time it is acknowledged that even these figures are below the
truth. 'Many of the largest grazing-grounds upon which tigers and leopards
do most mischief are situated miles away from any police station, and the
graziers do not, during the grazing months, often leave the jungle for the
town or village where there is a reporting station.
"We may take it, however,
that, although the statistics relating to cattle are admittedly imperfect,
the returns affecting human life are approximately correct, and represent
fairly enough the annual mortality attributable to snakes and wild beasts.
The death list has averaged over 22,500 for the last four years. As usual,
the provinces which principally suflered w'ere Bengal, the North-West
Provinces, and Oudh. Together they contribute nearly two-thirds of the roll.
Venomous snakes, of course, are far the deadliest enemies of human life. Out
of the total number of deaths they caused 20,142, leaving 2,675 to be
ascribed to wild beasts. No information is given as to the part played by
the different varieties, but the cobra is always the most destructive, and
few things briug home more vividly to Mr. Grifnn the fatalism and apathy of
the natives than their remissness in clearing out buildings or localities
notoriously swaging with these creatures. Amongst wild beasts the tiger
occupies, as usual, a bad pre-eminence; and, although he is more difficult
for the .sportsman to get at every year, there is no practical abatement in
his destructiveness. Certain spots which are isolated by malaria and want of
communications are as much his undisputed haunts still as those ' beats' in
the Central Provinces along the great salt line that streteheil across India
before the days of the Straclieys, where the tigers discharged the duties of
the jiatrol, and the hardiest native smuggler would not dare to run his
pack. 'Alligators, crocodiles and sharks' are again credited with 231 deaths
in the three provinces mentioned above, though it caunot lie said that in
this enumeration the Government of India errs on the side of too accurate a
classification. The alligator proper is, in fact, only found in the New
World, while the various Indian crocodiles differ in some important respects
from the true crocodile of Africa. It is, we believe, the 'mugger,' or marsh
crocodile, which generally comes iu for the loose designation of alligator,
and this beast reaches an enormous size.
"As we have stated above, the
returns of the destruction (if cattle are very far from being exact. Last
year, however, has the proud distinction of showing the heaviest loss that
has yet been officially reported. The total number of domestic cattle killed
tan up to nearly 00,000 head. Snakes are uot held responsible for much of
this loss, only 2,000 eases being put down to snake-bite; while the chief
agents in the slaughter are tigers and leopards, each claiming considerably
over 20,u00 victims. To turn now to measures of reprisal, we find that 1,835
tigers, 1,874 bears, and 6,278 wolves were killed off last year, as compared
with 2,196, 2,000, and 6,706 respectively in the preceding twelve months, in
which the figures, for some unexplained reason, rose considerably above the
average. This bag need not make the sportsman in quest of big game lose
heart, provided he has at his disposal those three coveted requisites—time,
health, and money. The extermination of snakes depends very much upon the
character of the season, which does not appear to have been particularly
favourable last year. Nevertheless, the number destroyed did not fall below
the average, which has ranged for some time between 300,000 and 400,000; and
of course this is far from being accurate, and is probably very much below
the mark. The Government grants bestowed for these protective measures came
to the tolerable sum of Rs. 2, 21,126."
The moon was now declining
red and threatening through the rising mists, so finishing each his "peg,"
we called to our "bearers," retired to our camp beds, and were soon dreaming
of their destructiveness, the dreams of the ardent Indian sportsman, while
silence hovered over the snowy whiteness of our tents.