Bengal tiger hunting - British royals and Indian elite - colonial era, some interesting facts - 02

A rare Rolls Royce Phantom-for tiger hunting  British Raj,

 For several centuries, hunting of tigers, leopards and Asiatic lions in  jungles was a favorite pastime of India's affluent  rulers from the Mogul emperors to the  Indian Royals and finally the British elite - Viceroys, Governors and Military Generals, et al.

Why were the British interested in tiger hunting: Considering hunting expeditions into the thick tropical jungles were looked upon as exoticand  heroic sport, they need respite from their monotonous stressful office work within the confines of four walls. Tigers being considered powerful and evasive to the British tigers  were the ultimate trophies. Organizing a big game was a favorite pastime for the British Raj  and their active participation  showcased their power and skill in outdoor activities  highlighting the cult of colonial machismo that is rooted in old world culture. It is nothing but an assertion of male superiority over the other gender.

India, during the colonial period, was the hot bed of Tiger hunting and it became a popular recreation for the British Masters. At one point of time, tiger hunting was an integral part of  higher British officials and a close relationship developed between rich Indian Maharajahs and the British during several tiger hunting expeditions into the deeper parts of India's dangerous jungles. 


The following are interesting facts: 

 01.  About  95 per cent of the tiger population since the turn of the 20th century have disappeared from their habitats. Reason: mostly due to activities of human predators. 

02. Tigers are  considered to be harder to hunt than other wild animals especially lions, because they are mostly solitary animals living in the dense cover or bushes.

03. Unlike lions, they are not noisy and do not live in groups. More often than not, they are good stalkers and their outer striped skin easily blends with the shades or dense bushes in the background.

04. In the initial stages hunting was done on foot. Subsequently men hunted the tiger on horse-back, elephant-back and from Machans (a hunting blind, a cover device for hunters, designed to reduce the chance of detection). These methods of hunting ferocious animals like tigers are beset with dangers. A wrong move means the hunter will be mauled by the big cat.

05. In 1900, the tiger population stood at 100,000  in the world and now fewer than  3,200 big cats are barely surviving today in the wild (WWF).
06. Unlike the past,  now their habitats in places like India, Burma, Indonesia, Bangladesh have  easy  access from near by small villages (WWF).

07. Three subspecies – Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers – were extinct by the 1980s.

08. In many countries in the tiger habitats and in the fringe areas, during  the hot season, water holes do not hold enough water and there is insufficient water availability for their needs. In many forests, the places around water holes are the main hunting grounds for the tigers because their preys come there often to drink water.

09. A clear fact, that emerged from the reports of early tiger hunters of the Raj was, in the 19th Century itself, the big cat population was not as good as it was thought to be. Destruction of tiger habitat had began with the introduction of industrialization in the colonial period. 

10. According to Dr. Ullas Karnath, a well-known wildlife biologist and Director of Wildlife Conservation Society’s India program:

“There was bounty on killing tigers from the 1800s during the reign of Kodagu Kings almost up to 1964. There used to be a villager called Changappa who shot 26 tigers for such bounty from 1948 to 1964, just around his village on the edges of Nagarahole,” recalled Dr. Ullas Karanth,

 11. In 1950s there were not more than 18,000 tigers in India in the estimate of Jim Corbett (July 1875 –April 1955) - who was a legendary British hunter and tracker-turned-conservationist, author and naturalist).
Tiger hunting,George V,front row, 5th from left) in 1906

Tiger hunting, British

. Another estimate, a rough one suggests in 1939 there were 30,000 tigers. The reduction in population since independence has been due to factors such as poaching, shrinkage of habitat, low reproduction and mortality rate of big cats.

13. Kailash Sankhala wrote in his ''Return of the Tiger'': ''..... 'The hunting situation in 30-year interval had also changed. In 1938, hunting was a pastime and few forests were open. In the unknown wooded areas movement was slow because trail - blazing was a tough job. The hunters had to tract the wild beast and at the same time clear the dense bushes, trees, etc to keep the trails visible for return trip.Another factor was  the guns and gunpowder used were medieval ... the 1967 records show that 1,730 permits were issued in that year and only 265 tigers were shot through out the country, a ‘success’ of only about 10 per cent, compared with almost 100 per cent in the nineteenth century.'
14. A research-first ever undertaken published (15 May, 2013) in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B journal  reported Indian tigers as subspecies suffered a massive  loss during the British Raj, part of the reason was decline in the mating partners and lack of genetic diversity.

 15. DNA studies reveal a shocking fact: high number of DNA variants in tigers killed during the British Raj – 93% of which were not found in the Indian tigers of today.  

 16. Almost a total collapse of big cats was orchestrated by  organized ''trophy hunting  spree'' by the British Bobs and India's ruling elite,  the main impetus for this was mechanized trophy hunting that reduced their numbers from 40,000 to less than 1,800 in a mere 100 years.
17. In his book ‘Tiger – Portrait of A Predator’, Valmik Thapar mentioned: ''The highest known individual score is the 1,100 tigers shot by the Maharajah of Surguja.”
18. Shooting records multiplied even faster than before. In 1938-39 season Lord Linlithgow, former Viceroy of India, to display his proven hunting skill, shot 120 tigers in ten weeks in the Chitwan Valley of Nepal. Maharajah of  Udaipur (now in Rajasthan) shot at least 1,000 tigers, the Maharajkumar of  Vizianagaram (now in Andhra) over 325, Maharaja of Rewa 500, Maharaja of  Gauripur 500, and the score-card goes on ad infinitum. 

19. King George V  had a jolly good time was on a 11 day state visit to Nepal in 1911, and his hunting expedition netted 39 tigers - a great bonanza for the ruler of the British Empire. One  British Colonel Nightingale, to his credit, killed more than 300 striped cats in Hyderabad region.The score-card was full.

20. Being a princely class,  the Indian Maharajah had their own grand ostentatious style, a unique combination of opulence and glamor, that was cynosure of the eyes of British rulers. Their style of living was altogether different and had an aura about them. Umed Singh II, the Maharajah of Kotah, had a flair for expensive fancy automobiles and hunting expedition in the woods. He took the affluent world by surprise by modifying a flaming red Rolls Royce Phantom 1925, the most expensive car, for tiger safaris in the Rajasthani jungles. It was fitted  with spotlights for night hunting, a mounted machine gun and a Lantaka cannon (Posted by Sharon Guynup in Cat Watch on March 10, 2014). The modified British car could fetch up to $1 million on the market.The car's 8.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine with a low gearing ratio allowed it "to creep powerfully through the roughshod jungles of Rajasthan," wrote Bonham, owner of the auction house. 

21. Newly-crowned Central India's Rewa kings  mind worked over time. Being superstitious, the rulers  thought it was auspicious to slay 109 tigers after their coronation. A strange, but silly fact was shooting a tiger was a coming-of-age ritual for young Indian princes. (Posted by Sharon Guynup in Cat Watch on March 10, 2014).

22. Ranthambhore, the Maharajah of Jaipur’s private hunting reserve was always active. His hunting gala parties included great royals like the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the Georgian Prince Alec Mdvani, His Majesty King George of Greece, the Duke of Gloucester, a galaxy of other royals plus Indian Maharajahs. When these renowned rulers of the world were out in the jungles of India after the poor big cats, their affluence and perversion of power took precedence over the tiger's power and their dwindling population.

 23. India's independence in 1947 ushered in an era of hunting for fun. It was a  free-for-all situation. Guaranteed trophies attracted people world over to go hunting in the Indian jungles. Any body with a suitable gun can hunt after any animal of his choice and keep it
as a trophy for life. There were no restrictions on hunting. This  situation was akin to shooting  spree of herds of sturdy bisons on the American plains in 1880s. 

 24. Reckless hunting of tigers without any proper conservation programs in the 19th and 19th century took a heavy toll on the big game animals. In 1980 the population of the animal in the subcontinent was pathetically low at 3,300. If one were to take these figures seriously, they show an increase of 900 tigers in 10 years.

25 The Wildlife Institute of India’s grim 2008 report shocked India and the world with its findings: A far more accurate 'camera trap survey' counted just 1,411 adult tigers—after a $400 million investment over 34 years to save them under Project Tiger. Two years later, a wider census raised tiger estimates to 1,706.------
Perry, Richard (1965). The World of the Tiger. p. 260. ASIN: B0007DU2IU

A Concise History of Tiger Hunting in India
Posted by Sharon Guynup in Cat Watch on March 10, 2014