Untold lives blog

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26 October 2012

Destruction of Wild Animals in Vizagapatam

In India in the nineteenth century, programmes of road and bridge building opened up less accessible areas of India for development, with jungle being cleared for agriculture and other commercial purposes. This led to increasing human encroachment on the natural habitat of animals which posed a threat to the safety of local people, such as tigers, leopards, wolves, bears, and venomous snakes. The India Office Records contains Government reports and correspondence concerning methods to tackle the problem of deaths due to wild animals and poisonous snakes. This often involved giving rewards to local people who killed dangerous animals, or appointing Government officers to organise the clearing of an area of such animals.

Male leopard

A male leopard from Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères

© The British Library Board Images Online

In 1873, the Governor of Madras appointed Captain St George Caulfeild, Superintendent of Police at Coimbatore, to hunt down and destroy tigers in the Coimbatore and Vizagapatam Districts of the Madras Presidency.  He kept a diary of his travels through Vizagapatam, extracts of which were sent to the India Office. Three principal methods were used to kill large dangerous animals: trapping, poisoning (usually by injecting bait with strychnine), or shooting (uncommon). Captain Caulfeild and his party travelled through the District constructing traps, purchasing live bait, and appointing watchers.

The hunt could be dangerous, requiring travel through difficult terrain and dense jungle. Captain Caulfeild’s party left Madras on the 24th December 1873, and arrived at Vizagapatam on the 27th, by which time half of them were already suffering from fever. By the 6th January he was on the trail of a man-eater reputed to have killed 35 people. Despite tracking this tiger for five days, they only found the leg and part of the head of one poor man who had been killed and partially eaten. Despite hearing it roar, dense jungle prevented them caching sight of the tiger. They eventually succeeded in getting it to take poisoned bait, and it was not heard of again.

As he toured the District, Caulfeild would collect any news of tiger attacks on local people. On one occasion he heard of a family who went to cut wood: “The tiger seized the man; his wife hearing him call, ran and threw herself on the top of the tiger; the tiger bolted leaving the man who now lives. After half an hour the tiger seized another man, carried him off and ate him.” Caulfeild himself had a close call when on the trail of a cheetah: ‘Last night the brute came to my tent and commenced scraping a hole to get in at, with a view no doubt of taking my dog which was tied up inside. My light had gone out or I would probably have had a shot at him”. Captain Caulfeild was forced to suspend his operations at the end of March 1874, due to all his servants being laid up with bad jungle fever.

John O’Brien
Curator, Post 1858 India Office Records

Source: Correspondence and reports from Local Governments and Administrations on the subject of the destruction of wild animals and venomous snakes, 1872-1874 [IOR/L/PJ/3/1115 No.5]


Hi, great article. Thank you for sharing.


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