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07 October, 2014

Devarayanadurga’s big game in legends and shikar tales

This story was published in the Deccan Herald ('Spectrum' supplement, Bangalore) on 7 October 2014 titled 'Shikar tales of Tumkur'*
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One of the tigers shot by British hunter Arthur J. O. Pollock. He narrates interesting tales of his shikar in Devarayanadurga's jungles
Source: 'Sporting days in Southern India', Arthur J. O. Pollock, 1894
In the aftermath of any victory on the battlefield the prime task of an occupying force is to settle all pressing issues of the administration of the occupied territory to smoothly achieve their aims of occupation. On 15 Dec 1799, seven months after vanquishing the Mysore army on the battle field,  the  Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore Arthur Wellesley, who was a Lieutenant-colonel in the coalition of the winning native and European armies, thought it very important to address the ‘issue’ of tigers patrolling the vicinity of modern day Chitradurga city. In a letter from Srirangapatna to Lt. Col. Close  published in the book ‘Dispatches of Field Marshall Duke of Wellington, during his various campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low countries and France from 1799 – 1818’ compiled by Lt. Col. Gurwood he writes, “In consequence of a letter from Colonel Oliver, an extract of which I enclose, I wrote to Government for an allowance for the destruction of tigers in the neighbourhood of Chittledroog, similar to that given in the Baramahal”. 

Chitradurga, or Chittledroog as the British called it, today is a bustling city on the Mumbai – Bangalore stretch of National Highway 4 inhabited by over a hundred thousand people. And Baramahal District refers to areas under the present day Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts.

Though the thought of eliminating even a single wild tiger today is chilling, the above note by Arthur Wellesely leaves a very important sign of the natural history at that time. It is true that the British occupied India for their own gains. But the literature from their rule, particularly 19th century, is dotted with priceless information on the state of affairs of the people, their traditions and the natural resources, including the wildlife, as witnessed during that period of history.

The big game in and around Devarayanadurga in 1800s
The shikar era was an age where shikaris or hunters - both legal and illegal, thrived on the big game of the nation’s forests. The Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act enacted by the British in 1912 and amended in 1935 was not strong enough to deter India’s wildlife like the cheetah from being hunted into extinction. This continued till 1972 when the Wildlife Protection Act was enacted which made hunting of all wild animals punishable more stringently. The British literature as well as that immediately after 1947 makes it clear that during the days of shikar the woods of Devarayanadurga were no different from other wildlife havens across the nation. The wildlife in them attracted shikaris from far and wide. And being close to Bangalore meant this woodland was always within the eye sight of many shikaris.

A view of Devarayanadurga hill surrounded by farmlands and scrub forest
©Ameen Ahmed (All rights reserved) 
There are numerous references to the big game of Devarayanadurga in the records of the British officers. Major General Dobbs wrote about the tigers in these districts in his book ‘Reminiscences of Life in Mysore, South Africa, and Burmah’ published in 1882. Dobbs was the longest serving British officer of Chitradurga Division, of which Chitradurga and Tumkur districts were a part, when the British administered the old Mysore state from 1831 to 1881. He has interesting narrations of tigers in the division including in and around today’s Tumkur city. He claims that tigers and leopards were among the principal wildlife of the division and the wrought great ‘destruction of life of humans and cattle’. He describes a method of trapping he put in place in the Chitradurga division due to which48 tigers were trapped in a short period, including four whose skins were brought to him on one morning. And there was a tiger which he writes was ‘unusually large’ that was shot on the outskirts of Tumkur city. He took its skin to England in 1856 and gifted to a relative who resided in Scotland. The trophy ultimately came back to him from the relative.

A tiger skin on display at a late sportsman's bungalow in Coorg. Col. Dobbs took a similar skin of a 'large' tiger shot in Tumkur to England in 1856
©Ameen Ahmed (All rights reserved) 
Dobbs seemed to have a particular liking for the wilderness of Devarayanadurga as it also made a positive spiritual impact on his religious practises. He narrates many accounts of his interactions with this forest’s wildlife. He tried preserving the game for fellow Europeans whom he would host for shikar. He speaks of the presence of sambur (which the British of that time referred to as elk) near the Devarayanadurga hill top, apart from tiger in the forests around the hill. The ‘common antelope’ (blackbuck) was so abundant in the country surrounding Devarayanadurga that one British officer shot 200 of these magnificent creatures ‘within a few days’. He narrates how an entire dead blackbuck would be available at the Tumkur market for ‘4 annas’ or about a quarter of a rupee. The spotted deer was ’never numerous’. British officers also indulged in ‘jig-sticking’ or spear hunting of wild boar as well as shooting sloth bears in the division. He observes how the reduction of tigers and leopards in the division due to hunting led to an increase in wild boar which damaged crops. He regretted the opening up of Devarayanadurga forest for shikar during his tenure as it led to the destruction of almost all wildlife there except the tiger.

An European indulging in spearhunting blackbuck in south India
Source: 'Records of sport in southern India between 1844 and 1870' , Douglas Hamilton (published in 1892)
Another British officer, Lt. Col. Arthur J. O. Pollock, in his book ‘Sporting days in Southern India’ published in 1894, gives interesting shikar accounts from Devarayanadurga’s jungles, in particular of the tiger. In October 1881 he ‘beat’ these jungles for several days looking for a tiger which was reported to be killing a lot of cattle in the vicinity. Although a number of spotted deer, wild boar as well as sambur were driven out daily he could not get a shot at the big cat. During a hunting expedition, the shikaris would employ ‘beaters’ who would create a ruckus by beating instruments to flush animals from their forest hideouts. And they would be accompanied by camp followers to help meet the needs of the hunting expedition. During this hunt, he recollects an incident where the camp followers pestered him for wild meat. Heeding to their request he organised a party of 100 villagers and four shikaris equipped with matchlock firearms. The beating began at a place that he refers to as the bungalow near Kumbarahalli which is probably the old forest bungalow of today’s Namadachelume. The shikar ended in a near tragedy as one of the shikaris ended up shooting a fellow sportsman who had crept much ahead of the crowd wanting to bag an animal by his own! The injured man was shifted to the hospital at nearby Tumkur and fortunately survived. It is not mentioned in the book if he volunteered to be a shikari again!

Inside the trophy room of Digby Davies, a British officer of Bombay police. The British shot many tigers
during their rule in India.
Source: 'Tiger slayer by order', Gouldesbury, C. E., 1915
Tigers again...
Over a century later, Dr. Uday Veer Singh, the then Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) of Tumkur District recorded the sighting an ‘adult’ tiger on the main road near Namada Chelume while patrolling Devarayanadurga forest in his official vehicle on a cold December night in 1996. This sighting by an IFS officer was a pleasant surprise to Tumkur’s nature lovers who were used to seeing leopards at regular intervals and had not heard of the tiger’s presence here in a long time. In August 2001, TVN Murthy, Honorary Wildlife Warden and wildlife activist of Tumkur-based Wildlife Aware Nature Club (WANC) claimed the sighting of two fully grown tigers inside this forest near the Namadachelume area. Reports of tiger sighting here continued coming in including by the forest department officials through the first decade of this century.

Over 40 years before Dr. U.V.Singh’s sighting, noted hunter Kenneth Anderson wrote about his shooting down of a tigress, in his book Nine Man-Eaters and One Rouge published in 1955. A tigress he named 'The Hermit of Devarayandurga' had killed 3 people in the vicinity of Devarayanadurga village. The tigress was said to be unusually aggressive and killed the gunman of a party of men that had gone to collect the body of an old woman whom it had killed earlier. He writes he shot it down after tracking it for 4 days. But that was an era when the human population was lesser and the pressures on this forest were few. What could have drawn the tiger again to the wilderness of Devarayanadurga towards the dawn of 21st century?

There are many theories that crop up on how a tiger could have entered this forest despite the fact that it today is isolated with no forested contiguity with another forest inhabited by tigers. In the late 1990s the possessing of wild animals in moving circuses was banned by the Government and there was pressure on people with captive tigers and other wild animals to account for such animals and hand over their custody to the authorities. Although the tiger could have been one such species left to fend for itself in the wilderness of Devarayanadurga by its owner who wanted to avoid the bureaucratic red tape , the possibility of a wild tiger having made this place its temporary home may not be out of place. Movement of wildlife is not always predictable. There are recent scientifically proven events of the tiger walking long distances often slipping through human habitation to reach forests hundreds of kilometres away. We also are witness how for over a decade an animal as big as the elephant is travelling unnoticed for long distances each summer to suddenly appear in the dry non-forested areas of south interior Karnataka, chiefly Tumkur. In his book Dobbs observes that the tiger is ‘migratory, and constantly came from different ranges to the superior cover in the vicinity of Daveroydroog’. Lt. Col. Pollock in his book says the tiger of Devarayanadurga, had its beat ‘extending from here all the way south to Magadi town’, west of Bangalore. Finally, Kenneth Anderson mentions that tigers had not been seen in Devarayanadurga’s jungles in ‘many a decade’ and the one he shot had migrated here 'among flat, cultivated fields'.

Every forest and wilderness is blessed with its own rich history of tales and legends. Devanarayanadurga boasts of its own hard to believe stories that fortunately have been documented in literature over the centuries. It is in our interest to conserve this wonderful part of our country, its associated memories and heritage into posterity.

*http://www.deccanherald.com/content/434532/shikar-tales-tumkur.html

RELATED STORIES:
Conservation of Devarayanadurga forest over the centuries
Bangalore’s missing grasslands
Tigers in Bangalore in the Colonial era
My Devarayanadurga
Wilderness Areas of Tumkur 

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