The destruction of the tiger and its habitat is possibly another of those things we picked up from the British. I mean one would have to first have a pile of dead tigers to then find out that they were no good at restoring the flagging libidos of opium addled mandarins, right? And if one could slowly create a fiend out of the animal revered and respected as Lord of the jungles of India for so long, one could make its people feel lesser and subjugated. In any case, hunting to the hounds had been something restricted to the aristocracy in Britain but when the lowest servant of the East India Company found that it was possible for him too, to bag a tiger or a leopard, every hope for the continued survival of the magnificent cats was on its way to being snuffed out.
(Lord Reading and the Maharaja of Gwalior, surveying the haul of the day)
Lords and generals and their puppet Maharajas, went out in large hunting parties, carried by anything up to 40 elephants; their servants drugging tigers before they arrived so the hunters were in little danger. They legitimized the slaughter by casting the animals as terrible, bloodthirsty beasts with a desire for human flesh.
After ascending the throne in 1911, King George V and his retinue traveled north to Nepal, killing 39 tigers in 10 days. A Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale shot more than 300 tigers in India. According to historian Mahesh Rangarajan, “over 80,000 tigers…were slaughtered in 50 years from 1875 to 1925. It is possible that this was only a fraction of the numbers actually slain.” Not all were trophy-hunted: In some regions, the cats were considered vermin by the British and government bounties provided incentive for their killing.
The killing increased after 1947 when there was a hunting spree similar to the one that destroyed bison herds on the prairies in the 1880s. Anyone who had a gun or wire traps and poison could bag a tiger. Hunters flew in from around the world hoping to get the trophies advertised by travel agencies—tiger, elephant and rhino. In a letter, the Maharaja of Surguja told wildlife biologist George Schaller that by 1965, he’d bagged 1,150 tigers. Because the biggest animals made the best trophies, the prime specimens disappeared from the gene pool.
“Having undergone a radical transformation from the loved and respected figure of Indian folklore, Kipling’s tiger displays all the motiveless malice of a true villain. Shere Khan hates Mowgli from the start simply because the latter is a man’s child….In portraying the tiger as an evil character ready to overturn the most sacred injunctions of the Law, Kipling is following conventional, imperial representation of this animal as an anarchic beast whose destruction is essential to the maintaning of order, down to the detail of the bounty of one hundred rupees offered by the government for Shere Khan’s head.”
(Not a modern photo of poached skins in some Hong Kong ware house catering to impotent Chinese, but hunters of the British Raj basking in ignorance and entitlement)
~Reading the Animal in the Literature of the British Raj
Photos: Internet sourced