It is a curious and inexplicable fact that certain animals and varieties of birds exhibit a peculiar shyness of human beings, although they are exposed to the same conditions as others which are more bold. We see that in every portion of the world the curlew is difficult to approach, although it is rarely or never pursued by the natives of the neighbourhood; thus we find the same species of bird exhibiting a special character whether it has been exposed to attack, or if unmolested in wild swamps where the hand of man has never been raised against it.
The golden plover is another remarkable example, as the bird is wild in every country that it inhabits, even where the report of fire-arms never has been heard. The wagtails, on the contrary, are tame and confiding throughout all places, whether civilised or savage. The swallows are the companions of the human race, nesting beneath their eaves, and sharing the shelter of their roofs in every clime. Why this difference exists in creatures subjected to the same conditions is a puzzle that we cannot explain. In like manner we may observe the difference in animals, many of which are by nature extremely timid, while others of the same genus are more bold. The beasts of prey vary in an extraordinary degree according to their species, which are in some way influenced by circumstances. Tigers and lions are naturally shy, and hesitate to expose themselves unnecessarily to danger; both these animals will either crouch in dense covert and allow the passer-by to continue his course, or slink away unobserved, if they consider that their presence is undetected. Nevertheless these animals differ in varying localities, and it is impossible to describe the habits of one particular species in general terms, as much depends upon the peculiarities of a district which may exercise an effect in influencing character. The tigers that inhabit high grass jungle are more dangerous than those which are found in forests. The reason is obvious; the former cannot be seen, neither can they see, until the stranger is almost upon them; they have accordingly no time for consideration, but they act upon the first impulse, which is either to attack in self-defence or to bound off in an opposite direction. If the same tiger were in a forest it would either see the approach or it would hear the sound of danger, and being forewarned, it would have time to listen and to decide upon a course of retreat; it would probably slink away without being seen.
Although the usual bait for a tiger is a young buffalo, there is no animal that is held in greater respect by this ferocious beast than an old bull of that species.
It is by no means an uncommon occurrence that should a tiger have the audacity to attack a buffalo belonging to a herd, the friends of the victim will immediately rush to its assistance, and the attacking party is knocked over and completely discomfited, being only too glad to effect a retreat.
A few months ago, from the date at which I am now writing, a native came to my camp with the intelligence that a large tiger had suddenly sprung from a densely wooded nullah and seized a cow that was grazing within a few yards of him. The man shouted in the hope of scaring the tiger, when two buffaloes who were near the spot and were spectators of the event at once charged the tiger at full speed, knocked it over by their onset, and followed it as it sprang for safety into the thick bush, thus saving the cow from certain destruction. The cow, badly lacerated about the throat, ran towards its native village, followed by its owner. I lost no time in arriving at the spot, about two miles from camp, and there I found the recent tracks precisely tallying with the description I had received. We organised a drive on the following morning, but the crestfallen tiger had taken the notice to quit, and had retreated from the neighbourhood.
An example of this kind is sufficient to exhibit the cautious character of the tiger. My shikari, a man of long experience, differed in opinion with the native who had witnessed the attack. This man declared that the tiger must be lying in a dense thicket covering a deep hollow of about 10 acres, to which it had retreated when charged by the two buffaloes; he advised that we should lose no time, but organise a drive at once, as the tiger, having been frightened by the buffaloes, would probably depart from the locality during the night.
My shikari argued against this suggestion. He was of opinion that the tiger might not be lying in the hollow, as there was much broken ground and jungle in the immediate neighbourhood, including many dense and deep nullahs that might have formed a retreat: if the tiger should happen to be within one of those places, it would be outside the drive, and would be frightened away by the noise of the beaters should we drive the hollow, and it would escape unseen. If, on the other hand, the tiger should be lying in any spot within a radius of half a mile, it would be very hungry, as proved by its attack upon the cow during broad daylight, and it would assuredly kill one or both of the baits, and remain with its prey, if we should tie up two young buffaloes that night; we should then be certain to have it within the drive on the following morning.
This was sound reasoning, and according to rule; but the native argued that the tiger, having been knocked over and pounded by the buffaloes, would be so cowed that it would decline to attack the young buffaloes that might be secured to trees as baits; it would, on the contrary, avoid anything in the shape of a buffalo, and if we neglected to drive the jungle at once, we should find a blank upon the following morning.
The sequel proved that the man was correct, as the buffaloes were untouched on the following day, and the tiger had disappeared from the locality.
The tiger, although hungry, was sufficiently disturbed by its defeat to abstain from any further attack; although the baits were only twelve months old, it was too shy to encounter anything in the shape of a buffalo.
In the grassy islands of the Brahmaputra there were a vast number of tigers some twelve or fourteen years ago, but their number has been reduced through the development of the country by the various lines of steamers which have improved the navigation of the river. Formerly a multitude of small islands of alluvial deposit thrown up by the impetuous current created an archipelago for 60 or 70 miles of the river's course south of Dhubri, in the direction of Mymensing; these varied in size from a few hundred yards to a couple of miles in length, and being covered with high grass and tamarisk, they formed a secluded retreat for tigers and other game at the foot of the Garo Hills. The river makes a sudden bend, sweeping near the base of this forest-covered range, from which the wild animals at certain seasons were attracted to the island pasturage and dense covert, especially when the forests had been cleaned by annual firing, and neither food nor place of refuge could be found. As these numerous islands abounded with wild pigs, hog-deer, and other varieties of game, they were most attractive to tigers, and these animals were tolerably secure from molestation, as it was impossible to shoot or even to discover them in grass 10 feet high without a line of elephants. The improvement introduced by steam navigation gave an increased impulse to cultivation, as the productions of the country could be transported at a cheap rate to Calcutta by the large barges termed flats, which are fastened upon either side of the river steamers. These are 270 feet in length, and of great beam. The steamers are from 270 to 300 feet from stem to stern, and are furnished with hurricane decks capable of stowing a large cargo, although the draught of water is limited owing to the numerous sandbanks that interrupt the channel. The peculiar conditions of the Brahmaputra, which render it necessary that these large vessels should be of very shallow draught, entail the necessity of a rudder 17 feet in length to afford a sufficient resistance for steering when running down the stream. The shock when striking upon a sandbank is sufficient to bury the stem without straining the vessel, as the flat bottom remains fixed upon the soft soil for a few moments, during which the force of the stream upon so large a surface brings the steamer broadside on to the obstruction and releases the stem. It is then an affair of an hour or more to get her off the bank by laying out kedge anchors, and heaving upon the hawsers with the steam winches.
The Brahmaputra is an extraordinary river, as it acknowledges no permanent channel, but is constantly indulging in vagaries during the season of flood; at such times it carries away extensive islands and deposits them elsewhere. Sometimes it overflows its banks and cuts an entirely new channel at a sudden bend, conveying the soil to another spot, and throwing up an important island where formerly the vessels navigated in deep water. This peculiar character of the stream renders the navigation extremely difficult, as the bed is continually changing and the captains of the steamers require a long experience.
During inundations the islands are frequently drowned out, and the wild animals are forced to swim for the nearest shore. Upon such occasions tigers have been frequently seen swimming for their lives, and they have been killed in the water by following them in boats. The captain of the steamer in which I travelled told me of a curious incident during a great inundation, which had covered deeply all the islands and transported many into new positions. Upon waking at daylight, the man who took the helm was astonished to see a large tiger sitting in a crouching attitude upon the rudder, which, as already explained, was 17 feet in length. A heavily-laden flat or barge was lashed upon either side, and the sterns of these vessels projected beyond the deck of the steamer, right and left.
The decks of these large flats were only feet above the water, and the tiger, when alarmed by a shout from the helmsman, made a leap from the rudder to the deck of the nearest vessel. In an instant all was confusion, the terrified natives fled in all directions before the tiger, which, having knocked over two men during its panic-stricken onset, bounded off the flat and sought security upon the deck of the steamer alongside. Scared by its new position and by the shouts of the people, it rushed into the first hole it could discover; this was the open door of the immense paddle-box, and the captain rushed to the spot and immediately closed the entrance, thereby boxing the tiger most completely.
There was only one gun on board, belonging to the captain: the door being well secured, there was no danger, and an ornamental air-hole in the paddle-box enabled him to obtain a good view of the tiger, who was sitting upon one of the floats. A shot through the head settled the exciting incident; and the men who were knocked over being more frightened than hurt, the affair was wound up satisfactorily to all parties except the tiger.
The progress of science in the improvement of steam navigation has had a wonderful effect throughout the world during the past half century, and it is interesting to watch the development resulting from the increased facilities of steam traffic upon the Brahmaputra. Although a residence upon the islands is accompanied by extreme risk during the period of inundations, there are many villages established where formerly the tigers held undisturbed possession; and the rich alluvial soil is made to produce abundance, including large quantities of jute, which is transported by the steamers to Calcutta. The danger of an unexpected rise in the river is always provided for, and every village possesses two or more large boats, which are carefully protected from the sun by a roof of mats or thatch, to be in readiness for any sudden emergency.
When the natives first established themselves upon the islands and along the dangerous banks of the Brahmaputra, they suffered greatly from the depredations of the numerous tigers, and in self-defence they organised a system by which each village paid a subscription towards the employment of professional shikaris. These men soon reduced the numbers of the common enemy, by setting clever traps, with bows and arrows, the latter having a broad barbed head, precisely resembling the broad arrow that is well known as the Government mark throughout Great Britain. The destruction of tigers was so great in a few years that the Lieut.-Governor of Bengal found it necessary to reduce the reward from fifty rupees to twenty-five, and tiger-skins were periodically sold by auction at the Dhubri Kutcherry at from eight annas to one rupee each.
In this manner the development of agricultural industry brought into value the fertile soil, which had hitherto been neglected, and the wild beasts were the first to suffer, and eventually to disappear from the scene; precisely as indolent savage races must vanish before the inevitable advance of civilisation. and their neglected countries will be absorbed in the progressive extension of colonial enterprise.
I believe there are very few tigers to be found at the present time in the islands or "churs" of the Brahmaputra, and although I never had the good fortune to know the country when it was described to me as "crawling" with these animals, I look back with some pleasure to my visit in 1885, when through the kindness of Mr. G. P. Sanderson, the superintendent of the keddahs, I was supplied with the necessary elephants.
The Rajah of Moochtagacha, Soochikhan (or Suchi Khan), had started from Mymensing with thirty-five elephants, and he kindly invited me to join him for a few days before I should meet Mr. Sanderson at Rohumari, about 38 miles below Dhubri, on the Brahmaputra. I had a scratch pack of twelve elephants, including some that had been sent forward from the keddahs, and others kindly lent by the Ranee of Bijni. These raised our number into a formidable line, excepting one huge male with long tusks belonging to the Bijni Ranee, who was too savage to be trusted with other elephants in company. This brute, as is not uncommon, combined great ferocity with extreme nervousness. He had just destroyed the howdah, which was smashed to atoms, as the animal had taken fright at the crackling of flames when some one had ignited a patch of long grass in the immediate neighbourhood. This had established an immediate panic, and the elephant bolted at full speed, destroying the howdah utterly beneath the branches of a tree; fortunately there was no occupant, or he would certainly have been killed. The sound of fire is most trying to the nerves of elephants, but a good shooting animal should be trained especially to bear with it; otherwise it is exceedingly dangerous.
The Rajah's elephants were his peculiar enjoyment, and there was the same difference in their general appearance, when compared with the keddah elephants, as would be seen in a well-kept stable of hunters and a team of ordinary farm horses. At the same time it must be remembered that Suchi Khan's elephants did no work, but were kept solely for his amusement, while the keddah animals had been working hard in the Garo Hills for many months upon inferior food, engaged with their experienced superintendent Mr. Sanderson in catching wild elephants. Nevertheless there was a notable superiority in the Rajah's shikari animals, as they had been carefully trained to the sport of tiger-hunting; they marched with so easy a motion that a person could stand upright in the howdah, rifle in hand, without the necessity of holding the rail. They appeared to glide instead of swaying as they moved, and in that respect alone they exhibited immense superiority, the difficulty of shooting with a rifle from the back of an elephant in motion being extreme. Several of these elephants were so well trained that they showed no alarm when a tiger was on foot, at which time an elephant generally exhibits a tendency to nervousness, and cannot be kept motionless by his mahout.
A favourite shikar animal had been badly bitten by a tiger a few days before my arrival, and it was feared that she might become shy upon the next encounter. Although the elephant is enormous in weight and strength, the upper portion of the trunk is much exposed, as it is the favourite spot for the tiger's attack, where it can fix its teeth and claws, holding on with great tenacity. A wound on the trunk is most painful, and when an elephant is actually pulled down by a tiger, it is the pain to which the animal yields in falling upon the knees, more than the actual weight and strength of the tiger that produce the effect. A tiger, when standing upon its hind legs, would be able to reach about 8 feet without the effort of a spring; it may be readily imagined that a female elephant unprotected by tusks must certainly be injured should a tiger rush determinedly to the attack; nevertheless the female is generally preferred to the male for steadiness and docility. When a really trustworthy male elephant is obtainable, well grown, of large size, easy action, and in perfect training, it is simply invaluable, and there is no pleasure equal to such a mount; the sensation upon such an animal is too delightful, and you long for the opportunity to exhibit the power and prowess of your elephant, as the feeling of being invincible is intensely agreeable. The only sensation that can approach it is the fact of being mounted upon a most perfect hunter, that you can absolutely depend upon when following the hounds in England; an animal well up to a couple of stones more than your own weight, who never bores upon your hand, but keeps straight, and never makes a mistake; even that only faintly approaches the pleasure of a good day upon such an elephant as I have described.
Mahouts will always lie concerning the reputation of the animal in their charge, and I had been assured that the great male belonging to the Ranee of Bijni was the ideal character I coveted; but I discovered that his temper was so well known that the Rajah positively declined to expose his line of elephants to an attack, which he assured me would take place if the animal became excited; in which event some valuable elephant would suffer, as the long tusks of the Bijni elephant had not been blunted, or shortened by the saw. This splendid animal was accordingly condemned to the ignominious duty of conveying food to the camp, for the other elephants upon their return from their daily work. The neighbourhood of the Brahmaputra is rich in plantain groves, and for a trifling consideration the natives allow those trees which have already produced their crop to be cut down. A full-length stem will weigh about 80 lbs., therefore an elephant is quickly loaded, as the animal for the short distance to camp will carry 18 cwts. or more. The operation of loading a pad elephant with either boughs or plantain stems is very curious. Two men are necessary; one upon the ground hands the boughs, etc., to the man upon the animal's back, who lays the thin or extreme end of the branch across the pad, leaving the thick or heavy end outwards. He places one foot upon this to keep it from slipping off until he has placed the next bough across it upon the opposite side, arranged in a similar manner. In this way he continues to load the elephant, each time holding down with his foot a separate bough, until he has secured it by the weight of another, placed in the same position opposite. This plan enables him to build up a load like a small haystack, which is then secured by ropes, and almost hides the animal that carries it. My mighty beast was condemned to this useful but degrading employment, instead of being honoured by a place in the line of shikari's elephants, and we started into the valleys among the Garo Hills, led by a native who declared that he would introduce us to rhinoceros and buffaloes.
We started at 6 A.M., and marched about 14 miles, extending into line whenever we entered a broad valley of high grass, and slowly thrashing our way through it. In many of the swampy flats among the hills the reedy grass was quite 14 or 15 feet in height and as thick as the forefinger; so dense was this herbage, that when the elephants were in line you could only see the animals upon the immediate left and right, the others being completely hidden. It struck me that this system of beating was rather absurd, as there were no stops in the front, neither scouts on the flanks, therefore any animals that might be disturbed by the advance in line had every chance of escape without being observed. The grass was a vivid green, and occasionally a rush in front showed that some large animal had moved, but nothing could be seen. This was a wrong system of beating. I was second in the line of six guns, the Rajah Suchi Khan upon my left; we presently skirted the foot of a range of low forest-covered hills, and after a rush in the high reeds I observed a couple of sambur deer, including a stag, trotting up the hill through the open forest, all of which had been recently cleared by fire. A right and left shot from Suchi Khan produced no effect, but the incident proved that the system of beating was entirely wrong, as the game when disturbed could evidently steal away and escape unseen. Our right flank had now halted at about 400 yards' distance as a pivot, upon which the line was supposed to turn in order to beat out the swamp that was surrounded upon all sides by hills and jungles. Suddenly a shot was heard about 200 yards distant, then another, succeeded by several in slow succession in the same locality. I felt sure this was a buffalo, and, as the line halted for a few minutes, I counted every shot fired until I reached the number twenty-one. Before this independent firing was completed we continued our advance, wheeling round our extreme right, and driving the entire morass, moving game, but seeing absolutely nothing. Although the jungles had been burnt, the valley grass was a bright green, as the bottom formed a swamp; even at this season (April) the ground was splashy beneath the heavy weight of our advancing line. Having drawn a blank since we heard the shots, we now assembled at the spot, where we found a bull buffalo lying dead surrounded by the elephants and four guns. These had enjoyed the fusillade of twenty-one shots before they could extinguish the old bull, who had gallantly turned to bay instead of seeking safety in retreat. It was a glorious example of the inferiority of hollow Express bullets against thick-skinned animals. The buffalo was riddled, and many of the shots were in the right place, one of which behind the shoulder would have been certain death with a solid 650 grains hard bullet, from a .577 rifle with 6 drams of powder. The buffalo, finding himself surrounded by elephants, had simply stood upon the defensive, without himself attacking, but only facing about to confront his numerous enemies.
We were a very long way from camp; we therefore retraced our course, and having avoided some dense swamps that were too soft for the elephants, we sought harder ground, shooting several hog-deer on our way, and arriving in camp after sundown, having been working for twelve hours, to very little purpose, considering our powerful equipments.
Although we had covered a very large area during the day's work, we had seen no tracks of rhinoceros, and so few of buffaloes that we determined to abandon such uninteresting and unprofitable ground; accordingly we devoted the following day to the churs or islands of the river, where we should expect no heavy game, but we might come across a tiger.
In driving the grassy islands of the Brahmaputra some persons are contented with the chance of moving tigers by simply forming a line of a quarter of a mile in length with forty elephants, without any previous arrangement or preparation. This is wrong.
To shoot these numerous islands much caution is required, and unless tigers are exceedingly plentiful, the whole day may be fruitlessly expended in marching and counter-marching under a burning sun, with a long line of elephants, to little purpose.
There should be a small herd of at least twenty head of cattle under the special charge of four shikaris, and five or six of these poor beasts should be tied up at a distance of a mile apart every evening as bait for tigers. At daylight every morning the native shikaris should visit their respective baits, and send a runner into camp with the message should one or more have been killed. The elephants being ready, no delay would occur, and the beat would take place immediately. In that manner the tiger is certain to be found, as it will be lying somewhere near the body of its prey.
There is a necessity for great precaution, lest a tiger when disturbed should steal away and escape unobserved from the dense covert of high grass. To effect his destruction, at least two scouting elephants should be thrown forward a quarter of a mile ahead from either flank of the advancing line; and, according to the conditions of the locality, two or more elephants with intelligent mahouts should be sent forward to take up positions ahead of the line at the terminus of the beat. These men should be provided with small red flags as signals should the tiger show itself; the waving of flags together with a shout will head the tiger, and drive it back towards the advancing line of elephants; at the same time the signal will be understood that a tiger is afoot, and the mahouts will be on the alert.
When a tiger is headed in this manner it will generally crouch, and endeavour to remain concealed until the elephants are close upon it. Upon such occasions it will probably spring upon the first disturber with a short harsh roar, and unless stopped or turned by a shot, it will possibly break through the line and escape to the rear, as many of the elephants will be scared and allow the enemy to pass.
Should this occur, it will be necessary to counter-march, and to reverse the position by sending some active elephants rapidly upon either flank to take up certain points of observation about 500 yards distant, according to the conditions of the ground. This forms the principal excitement of tiger-shooting in high grass, as the sport may last for hours, especially if there are only two or three guns in a long line of elephants. If there is no heavy forest at hand, but only grass jungle, no tiger should be allowed to escape if the management is good, and the patience of the hunters equal to the occasion.
I must give every credit to the Rajah Suchi Khan for this virtue, and for the perseverance he and his friends exhibited in working for so many hours in the burning sun of April to so little purpose. There was very little game upon the islands near Dhubri beyond a few hog-deer and wild pigs, and it appeared mere waste of time to wander in a long line of beating elephants from sunrise till the afternoon with scarcely a hope of tigers. However, upon the second day, when our patience was almost exhausted, we met a native who declared that a tiger had killed one of his cows only two days before. Taking him as a guide, he led us about two miles, and in a slight hollow among some green tamarisk we were, after a long search, introduced to a few scattered bones, all that remained of the native cow which had been recently killed, and the skeleton dislocated by jackals and wild pigs. Unless the tiger had been disturbed there was every chance of its being somewhere in the neighbourhood; we therefore determined to beat every yard of the island most carefully, although it extended several miles in length, and was about one mile in maximum width.
The line was formed, but no scouts were thrown forward, nor were any precautions taken; it was simply marching and counter-marching at hazard. Hours passed away and nothing was moved to break the monotony of the day but an occasional pig, whose mad rush for the moment disturbed the elephants.
It was 2 P.M.: hot work for ladies—my wife was in the howdah behind me. I confess that I am not fond of the fair sex when shooting, as I think they are out of place, but I had taken Lady Baker upon this occasion at her special request, as she hoped to see a tiger. We were passing through some dense green tamarisk, growing as close and thick as possible, in a hollow depression, which during the wet season formed a swamp, when presently the elephants began to exhibit a peculiar restlessness, cocking their ears, raising their trunks, and then emitting every kind of sound, from a shrill trumpet to the peculiar low growl like the base note of an organ, broken suddenly by the sharp stroke upon a kettle-drum, which is generally the signal of danger or alarm. This sound is produced by striking the ground with the extremity of the trunk curled up.
I felt sure that a tiger was in this dense covert. The question was how to turn him out.
The tamarisk was about 20 feet high, but the stems were only as thick as a man's arm; these grew as close together as corn in a field of wheat; the feathery foliage of green was dark through extreme density, forming an opaque mass that would have concealed a hundred tigers without any apparent chance of their discovery.
Although this depression was only about 6 feet below the general level of the island, it formed a strong contrast in being green, while the grass in the higher level was a bright yellow. The bottom had been swampy, which explained the vigorous vegetation; and although this lower level was not wider than 80 or 90 yards, it was quite a quarter of a mile in length.
Neither the mahouts nor their animals appeared to enjoy the fun of beating out this piece of dense covert, as they were well aware that the tiger was "at home." As it was absolutely necessary to form and keep a perfect line, the elephants being shoulder to shoulder, I begged the Rajah and his friends to ride towards the terminus of the tamarisk bottom, placing a gun at the extreme end and upon either side; while I should accompany the beaters to keep a correct line, and to drive the covert towards them. I felt sure that by this arrangement the tiger could not escape without being seen.
This was well carried out; they took their places, and after some delay I managed to collect about forty elephants into a straight line, not more than 4 or 6 feet from each other. The word was given for the advance, and the effect was splendid. The crash through the yielding mass was overpowering; the dark plumes of the tamarisk bowed down before the irresistible phalanx of elephants; the crackling of the broken stems was like the sound of fire rushing through a cane-brake, and this was enlivened by sudden nervous squeals, loud trumpets, sharp blows of kettle-drums, deep roars, and all the numerous sounds which elephants produce when in a state of high nervous excitement. I felt sure that at times the tiger was only a few feet in our advance, and that it was slinking away before the line.
The elephants increased in excitement; sometimes two or three twisted suddenly round, and broke the line. A halt was ordered, and although it was impossible to see beyond the animal on the immediate right and left, the order was given to dress into an exact line, and then to advance.
In this manner, with continual halts to re-form, we continued our uncertain but irresistible advance. Suddenly we emerged upon a swampy piece of grass interspersed with clumps of tamarisk; here there was intense excitement among the elephants, several turned tail and bolted in an opposite direction; when the cause was quickly discovered, by a large tiger passing exactly in front of me not 20 yards distant, and showing himself most distinctly, giving me a lovely chance.
The elephant we rode was a female named Sutchnimia, and she had been introduced to my notice as infallible, her character as usual being well supported by her mahout; but no sooner did this heroic beast descry the tiger, than she twisted herself into every possible contortion, throwing herself about in the most aimless attitudes, with a vigour that threatened the safety of the howdah and severely taxed the strength of the girth-ropes.
The tiger (a fine male) suddenly stopped, and turned three-parts round, apparently amazed at the gesticulations of the elephant; and there the beast stood, exposing the shoulder to a most certain shot if the elephant would have kept decently quiet for only two seconds. The fact of the tiger having halted, and remaining in view within 20 yards, only aggravated the terror of Sutchnimia, and she commenced shaking her colossal body like a dog that has just emerged from water. It was as much as we could do to hold on with both hands to the howdah rails; my watch was smashed, the cartridges in my belt were bent and doubled up against the pressure of the front rail and rendered useless, while the mahout was punching the head of his refractory animal with the iron spike, and the tiger was staring with astonishment at the display upon our side.
This picture of helplessness did not last long; the tiger disappeared in the dense covert, and left me to vent my stock of rage upon the panic-stricken elephant. Twice I had endeavoured to raise my rifle, and I had been thrown violently against the howdah rail, which had fortunately withstood the shock. The tiger had broken back, therefore it was necessary to repeat the beat. I was of opinion that it would be advisable to take the elephants out of the tamarisk jungle, and to march them along the open ground, so as to re-enter exactly in the same place and in the same order as before. There could be no doubt that the tiger would hold to the thick covert until fairly driven out, and it would probably break upon the second beat where the guns were protecting the end and both sides of the hollow.
The elephants were this time intensely excited, as they knew as well as we did that the game was actually before them. I ordered them to keep within a yard of each other, to make it impossible for the tiger to slink back by penetrating the line. Several times as we advanced in this close order the animal was evidently within a few feet of us, as certain elephants endeavoured to turn back, while others desired to dash forward upon the unseen danger, which all keenly smelt. At last, when several elephants trumpeted and made a sudden rush, a shot was fired from the gun upon the left flank, stationed upon the open ground slightly above the hollow. The line halted for an explanation, and it appeared that the Rajah had fired, as the tiger for an instant showed itself upon the edge of the tamarisk jungle.
We now continued the advance; the tiger had not spoken to the shot, therefore we considered that it was without effect, and I felt sure that in such compact order we should either trample upon it or push it out at the extremity of the covert.
At length, having carefully beaten out the tamarisk, which had now been almost destroyed by the tread of so close a line of elephants, we emerged at the extreme end of the hollow, where, instead of tamarisk, a dense patch of withered reeds much higher than an elephant were mingled in a confused growth, occupying an area of hardly 10 yards square. I felt sure that the tiger must have crouched for concealment in this spot.
Suchi Khan had brought his elephant upon the left, another gun was on the right, and a third in the centre at the extreme end, while I was in the bottom with the line of elephants. Begging the outside guns to be careful, and to reserve their fire until the tiger should bolt into the open, I ordered the elephants to form three parts of a circle, to touch each other shoulder to shoulder, and slowly to advance through the tangled reeds. This was well done, when suddenly the second elephant upon my left fell forward, and for the moment disappeared; the tiger had made a sudden spring, and seizing the elephant by the upper portion of the trunk, had pulled it down upon its knees. The elephant recovered itself, and was quickly brought into the position from which for a few seconds it had departed. The tiger was invisible in the dense yellow herbage.
Very slowly the line pressed forward, almost completing a circle, but just leaving an aperture a few yards in width to permit an escape. The elephant's front was streaming with blood, and the others were intensely excited, although apparently rendered somewhat confident by pressing against each other towards the concealed enemy.
Presently a mahout about two yards upon my right beckoned to me, and pointed downward with his driving-hook. I immediately backed my elephant out of the crowd, and took up a position alongside his animal. He pointed at some object which I could not distinguish in the tangled mixture of reeds, half-burnt herbage, and young green grass that had grown through; at length something moved, and I at once made out the head and shoulders of a tiger crouching as though ready for a spring. In another moment it would have tried Sutchnimia's nerves by fixing its teeth upon her trunk; but this time she stood well, being encouraged by the supporting elephants, and I placed a .577 bullet between the tiger's shoulders; this settled the morning's sport without further excitement.
The tiger was dragged out. It was a fine male, and we discovered that Suchi Khan's shot had struck it in the belly; the wound, not being fatal, had rendered it more vicious.
It has already been remarked that a really staunch and tractable elephant is rarely met with. This renders tiger-shooting exceedingly uncertain, as it is impossible to shoot correctly with a rifle when an animal is flinging itself about to an extent that renders it necessary to hold fast by the howdah rail. I generally take an ordinary No. 12 gun as an adjunct. If the grass is very high and dense, the tiger will seldom be farther than 20 yards distant, and a smooth-bore breechloader with a spherical ball will shoot sufficiently well to hit the palm of your hand. This accuracy may be obtained to 30 or 40 yards provided that the bullet is sufficiently large to enter the chamber, but a size too large for the muzzle. It will accordingly squeeze its way through without the slightest windage, and will shoot with great precision, with a charge of 4 1/2 drams of powder and a ball of pure soft lead. A No. 12 is exceedingly powerful, and if 7 lbs. in weight, it can be fired with one hand like a pistol. This is an immense advantage, as the shooter can hold tight by the howdah rail with his left hand, while he uses his gun with the right. I always load the right barrel with ball, and the left with the same charge of powder (4 1/2 drams), but with either 16 S.S.G. or 1 1/2 ounce of A.A. or B.B. shot. For leopards there is nothing so certain as S.S.G. at 20 or 30 yards; and for hog-deer and other sorts of small game the smaller shot is preferable, but always with the same full charge of powder.
A smooth-bore gun is much easier to use than a rifle from a howdah, as it is unnecessary to squint along the sight, but the shot is taken at once with the rapidity usual in ordinary shooting at flying objects. Care must be taken, when firing only with one hand, that the wrist should be turned to the left, so that the hammers of the gun are lying over in that direction instead of being erect. In that position the elbow is raised upon the right, and the recoil of the gun will not throw it up towards the shooter's face, which might happen should the gun be held with the hammers uppermost; it is also much easier to hold a gun with one hand in the attitude described. Should a tiger spring upon an elephant, it would be exceedingly difficult to defend the animal unless by shooting with one hand, as the struggles of the elephant would render it impossible to stand.
I had a practical example of this shortly after the departure of Suchi Khan, when I pushed on to Rohumari and met Mr. G. P. Sanderson, April 1, 1885. He had brought with him the entire force of elephants from the Garo Hills, the season for capturing wild elephants having just expired. Many of his men were suffering from fever, and he himself evidently had the poison of malaria in his system.
A bullock had been tied up the preceding evening within three-quarters of a mile from our camp, and on the morning of April 1 this was reported to have been killed. We accordingly sallied out, and in a few minutes we found the remains, above which the vultures were soaring in large numbers. The high grass had been partially burnt, and large patches remained at irregular distances where the fire had not penetrated, or where the herbage had been too green to ignite; however, all was as dry as tinder at this season, and having formed the elephants in line, I took up a position with my elephant about 300 yards ahead.
The elephants came on in excellent formation, as Mr. Sanderson was himself with them in command; presently I saw a long tail thrown up from among the yellow grass, and quickly after I distinguished a leopard moving rapidly along in my direction. For a few minutes I lost sight of it, but I felt sure it had not turned to the right or left, and, as a clump of more than ordinary thick grass stood before me, I concluded that the animal had probably sought concealment in such impervious covert.
When the elephants at length approached, I begged that half a dozen might just march through the patch within a few yards of my position. I was riding an elephant called Rosamond, which was certainly an improvement upon my former mount.
Hardly had the line entered the patch of grass when, with a short angry roar, a leopard sprang forward, and passed me at full speed within 25 yards; and immediately turned a somersault like a rabbit, with a charge of 16 S.S.G. from the No. 12 fired into its shoulder.
This was very rapidly accomplished, as our camp was within view, certainly not more than a mile distant.
We placed the leopard upon a pad elephant, and sent it home; while we once more extended the line, and as usual I took up a position some hundred yards in advance, in a spot that was tolerably clear from the high grass.
Almost the same circumstance was repeated. I saw another leopard advancing before the line, and pushing my elephant forward to a point that I considered would intercept it, I distinctly saw it enter a tangled mass of herbage, hardly large enough to shelter a calf; there it disappeared from view.
The line of elephants arrived, and no one was aware that another leopard had been moved. I pointed out the small clump of grass, and ordered an elephant to walk through it. In an instant a leopard bolted, and immediately rolled over like its comrade; but as I had to wait until it had cleared the line of elephants before I fired, it was about 35 yards distant, and although it fell to the shot, it partially recovered, and limped slowly forward with one broken leg, being terribly wounded in other places. It only went about 40 paces, and then lay down to die. One of the mahouts dismounted from his elephant, and struck it with an axe upon the head. This leopard was immediately despatched to camp, and we proceeded to beat fresh ground, as no tiger had been here, but evidently the two leopards had killed the bullock on the preceding night, and nothing more remained.
Rosamond had stood very steadily, but she was terribly rough to ride, and the howdah swung about like a boat in a choppy sea.
A couple of hours were passed in marching through every place that seemed likely to invite a tiger, but we moved nothing except a great number of wild pigs; a few of these I shot for the Garo natives who accompanied us. At length we observed in the distance the waving, green, feathery appearance of tamarisk, and as the sun was intensely hot, we considered that a tiger would assuredly select such cool shade in preference to the glaring yellow of withered grass. At all times during the hot season a dense bed of young tamarisk is a certain find for a tiger, should such an animal exist in the neighbourhood. The density of the foliage keeps the ground cool, as the sun's rays never penetrate. The tiger, being a nocturnal animal, dislikes extreme heat, therefore it invariably seeks the densest shade, and is especially fond during the hottest weather of lying upon ground that has previously been wet, and is still slightly damp; it is in such places that the tamarisk grows most luxuriantly.
We were now marching through a long strip of this character which had at one time formed a channel; on either side the tamarisk strip was enormously high, and dense grass. Suddenly an elephant sounded the kettle-drum note; this was quickly followed by several others, and a rush in the tamarisk frightened the line, as several animals had evidently broken back. We could see nothing but the waving of the bush as the creatures dashed madly past. These were no doubt large pigs, but I felt certain from the general demeanour of the elephants that some more important game was not far distant.
The advance continued slowly and steadily. Presently I saw the tamarisk's feathery tops moving gently about fifteen paces ahead of the line; the elephants again trumpeted and evinced great excitement; this continued at intervals until we at length emerged from the tamarisk upon a flat space, where the tall grass had been burnt while yet unripe, and although killed by the fire and rendered transparent, it was a mass of black and yellow that would match well with a tiger's colour. We now extended the line in more open order, to occupy the entire space of about 200 yards front; Sanderson kept his position in the centre of the line, while I took my stand in an open space about 150 yards in advance, where an animal would of necessity cross should it be driven forward by the beat.
The line advanced in good order. The elephants were much disturbed, and they evidently scented danger.
They had not marched more than 50 or 60 yards before a tremendous succession of roars scattered them for a few moments, as a large tiger charged along the line, making splendid bounds, and showing his entire length, as he made demonstrations of attack upon several elephants in quick rotation. It was a magnificent sight to see this grand animal, in the fullest strength and vigour, defy the line of advancing monsters, every one of which quailed before the energy of his attack and the threatening power of his awe-inspiring roars. The sharp cracks of two shots from Sanderson, whose elephant was thus challenged by the tiger, hardly interrupted the stirring scene; but, as the enemy rushed down the line, receiving the fire from Sanderson's howdah, he did not appear to acknowledge the affront, and having effected his purpose of paralysing the advance, he suddenly disappeared from view.
I was in hopes that he would break across the open which I commanded, but there was no sign of movement in the high grass. The line of elephants again advanced slowly and cautiously; suddenly at a signal they halted, and I observed Sanderson, whose elephant was a few yards in advance of the line, halt, and, standing up, take a deliberate aim in the grass in front. He fired; a tremendous roar was the response, and the tiger, bounding forward, appeared as though he would assuredly cross my path. Instead of this, after a rush of about 50 or 60 yards I saw the tall grass only gently moving, as the animal had reduced its pace to the usual stealthy walk. The grass ceased moving in a spot within 30 paces, and exactly opposite my position. I marked a bush upon which were a few green shoots that had sprouted since the fire had scorched the grass. I was certain that the tiger had halted exactly beneath that mark. My mahout drove the elephant slowly and carefully forward, and I was standing ready for the expected shot, keeping my eyes well open for an expected charge; Sanderson was closing in upon the same point from his position. Presently, when within a few feet of the green bush, I distinguished a portion of the tiger, but I could not determine whether it was the shoulder or the hind-quarter. Driving the elephant steadily forward, with the rifle to my shoulder, I at length obtained a complete view. The tiger was lying dead!
Sanderson's last shot had hit it exactly behind the shoulder; but the first right and left had missed when the tiger charged down the line, exemplifying the difficulty of shooting accurately with an elephant moving in high excitement.
We now loaded an elephant with this grand beast and started it off to camp, where Lady Baker had already received two leopards. We had done pretty well for the 1st April, but after this last shot our luck for the day was ended.
This day unfortunately deprived me of my companion, as the fever which had been dormant developed itself in Sanderson and completely prostrated him. He had a peculiar objection to quinine, therefore in default of remedies, which were all at hand, he remained a great sufferer during three successive weeks, and I was left alone with the long line of elephants to complete the driving of the innumerable churs below the village of Rohumari. I must pay Mr. Sanderson the well-merited compliment of praising his staff of mahouts, who were, with their well-trained animals, placed at my disposal; these men exhibited the result of such perfect discipline and organization, that, although a perfect stranger to them, I had not the slightest difficulty; on the contrary, they worked with me for twenty days as though I had been their old master for as many years. No better proof could be adduced of the excellent management of Mr. Sanderson's department.
The sport on 1st April had raised my expectations, but I quickly discovered that it was an exceptional day, and that the rule would be disappointing. A little experience introduced me to the various characters of the elephants which composed our pack, and I amused myself by arranging them according to their qualifications, the heavier and slower animals in the centre, and the more active at either end of the line. Each elephant was to retain invariably the same position every day, as the mahouts and their beasts would be more likely to act harmoniously if always associated together in the beat. The fast elephants, being at the extreme ends, would be able to turn quickly upon the centre whenever necessary. Four elephants were told off as scouts; these were the most active, with intelligent mahouts. The men appeared to take an intense interest in the sport, and in the regularity of the arrangements, as they were equally aware with myself of the necessity for strict order and discipline, where only one solitary gun represented the offensive capacity of the line.
The ordinary method of tiger-shooting with a long line of elephants comprises five or six guns placed at intervals. I dislike this style of sport, as it engenders wild and inaccurate firing. Every person wishes to secure a chance, therefore no opportunity is lost, and wherever the grass is seen to move, a bullet is directed at the spot. If only one gun is present, extreme caution and good management are necessary to ensure the death of a tiger, and the result of twenty-five days' shooting on the churs of the Brahmaputra was highly satisfactory, as during that period eight tigers and three leopards only were moved, and every one was bagged; thus nothing whatever escaped.
I always make a point of allowing the Government reward as a bonus, without any deductions for buffalo baits or beaters, and this amount I divide among the shikaris and mahouts according to my estimation of their merits; this gives them an additional interest in the proceedings. We were now thoroughly organised, and, if the tigers had been in the numbers that existed some years ago, we should have made a more than ordinary bag. The difficulty of managing so long a line of elephants with a tiger on foot, and only one gun, was shortly made apparent.
One of our baits had been killed, and the body had been dragged into about twelve acres of wild rose. This bush produces a blossom rather larger than the common dog-rose of English hedges, and equally lovely. Although it is armed with a certain amount of thorns, it is not to be compared with the British variety as a formidable barrier, but, as it delights in swamp hollows, it grows into the densest foliage, about 18 feet high, and forms an impenetrable screen of tangled and matted vegetation. No human being could force his way through a network of wild rose, therefore it forms a desirable retreat for all wild animals, who can penetrate beneath it, and enjoy the protection of cool shade, and undisturbed seclusion.
In an open grass country it may be readily imagined that tigers would be certain to resort to such inviting covert, where they would be secure from all intrusion, and to which cavernous density they could drag and conceal their prey.
Upon arrival about three miles from camp at this isolated patch of rose jungle, I felt sure that the tiger must be within. There was a similar but rather smaller area of wild rose about 3/4 mile distant, and it was highly probable that should the tiger be disturbed, it might slink away, break covert at the extreme end, and make off across the open grassland to the neighbouring shelter. I therefore posted myself outside the jungle in a kind of bay, where I considered the tiger would emerge from his secure hiding-place before he should risk a gallop across the open.
I threw out scouts as usual, and I sent the line of elephants round, to drive the jungle towards me from the opposite extremity.
A certain time elapsed, and at length I perceived the approach, in splendid line, each elephant as nearly as possible equidistant from its neighbour.
They marched forward in regular array until within a couple of hundred yards of my position; then suddenly I heard a trumpet, trunks were thrown up in the air, the line wavered, and a succession of well-known sounds showed that a tiger was before them. The mahouts steadied their animals, brought them again into a correct line, and the advance continued.
I was riding a large male elephant named Thompson; this was a fine animal with formidable tusks, but he was most unsteady. Already he was swaying to and fro with high excitement, as he knew full well by the trumpets and sounds of the other elephants that a tiger was not far distant.
Presently I saw the jungle shake, and a hog-deer dashed out within a few yards of me; the elephant whisked suddenly round; this prepared me for a display of his nervousness. Again the rose bushes moved, and I distinctly observed a yellowish body stealing beneath the tangled mass; it was quickly lost to sight. The line of beating elephants was coming slowly forward, crashing their way through the bush, and occasionally giving a shrill scream, when again I saw the bushes move; without further introduction a very large tigress gave two or three roars, and rushed out of the jungle exactly opposite my position, straight at my elephant. Before I had time to raise my rifle, the elephant spun round as though upon a pivot, and ran off for a few paces, making it impossible for me to fire. The tiger, probably alarmed, turned back into the secure fortress of wild rose.
We now knew that the tiger was positively between the line of elephants and myself. I felt sure that it would not show again at the same place; I therefore selected a favourable spot about 100 yards to my left upon some slightly rising ground, and the elephants wheeled and beat directly towards me.
Nothing moved except pigs, which all broke back at a wild rush between the elephants' legs, two of which had slight cuts from the tusks of boars, which had made a spiteful dig at the opposing legs whilst passing.
At length the line arrived within 20 yards from the margin of the thick jungle; here a regular rush took place; several hog-deer dashed back, but at the same time a tiger bounded forward, and galloped across the open grass-land in the direction of the neighbouring wild-rose covert. The scouts holloaed, waved their puggarees, and then rode after the tiger as hard as they could press their active elephants.
My steed Thompson had behaved disgracefully, as he had again twisted suddenly round, and was so unsteady that although the tigress was not 10 yards from me I had not the power of firing; I accordingly relinquished my favourite rifle '577, which I secured in the rack, and took in exchange my handy No. 12 smooth-bore, which only weighed 7 lbs. With that light weapon I knew I could take a quick flying shot; the right-hand barrel was loaded with a spherical ball, and the left with 1 3/4 ounce S.S.G shot and 4 1/2 drams of powder. To load a cartridge case (Kynoch's brass) with this charge, and a very thick felt wad, it is necessary to fix the wad above the shot with thick gum, otherwise it will not contain the extra quantity.
Upwards of an hour was passed in driving the second covert, but although we moved the tiger several times, it was impossible to obtain a shot, as the cunning brute, discovering our intentions, was determined not to break into the open near the elephant. At length, finding the impossibility of dislodging it, I put myself in the centre of the line, and left the end of the covert unguarded, so as to invite the tiger to make a dash through the interval to regain the former jungle.
As we marched along, driving in a compact line I presently observed the jungle move about 30 yards before me, and I immediately fired into the spot, not in the expectation of hitting an unseen animal, but I concluded that the shot would assist in driving it from the covert. This was successful, as shortly afterwards we heard the shouts of the mahouts on the scouting elephants, who reported that the tiger had gone away at great speed across the intervening ground towards the original retreat.
We hurried forward, and upon reaching the wild-rose jungle we re-formed the line, and made use of every possible manoeuvre for at least an hour without obtaining a view of the tiger. The elephants appeared confident that their enemy was there, and my men began to think that the shot I had fired into the bush might have wounded it, and that it was probably lying dead beneath some tangled foliage. By this time, through continual advancing and counter-marching, the jungle was completely trodden into confused masses of concentrated briars, which might have concealed a buffalo.
I did not share their opinion, but I concluded that the tiger was crouching, and that it would allow the elephants to pass close to its lair without the slightest movement. I accordingly ordered them to close up shoulder to shoulder, and to take narrow beats backwards and forwards to include every inch of ground. This movement was carefully worked out, and in less than fifteen minutes a sudden roar terrified the elephants, and the tiger charged desperately through the line! There was no longer any doubt about its existence, and we quickly reformed, and beat back in exactly the same close order. Twice the charge was repeated, and each time the line was broken; one elephant received a trifling scratch, and the tiger had learned that a direct charge would enable it to escape.
With only one gun it appeared to be a mere lottery, but the excitement was delightful, as there was no doubt concerning the tiger being alive, and very little doubt that it would continue its present tactics of crouching close-hidden in the dense thicket, and springing back through the line of elephants as they advanced. I now changed my position in the line, and taking with me two experienced elephants. I placed one on my right, the other on my left; we then advanced as slowly as it was possible for the elephants to move, every mahout having strict orders to keep a bright look-out, and to halt should he see the slightest movement in the bush before him. No animals were left in the jungle except the tiger, therefore any movement would be a certain sign of its presence.
We had been advancing at the rate of about half a mile an hour, the elephants almost "marking time" when in about the centre of the jungle one of the mahouts raised his arm as a signal and halted his elephant. The whole line halted immediately.
I rode towards the spot; the line opened, and the mahout explained that he distinctly saw the bushes move exactly in his front, not more than three or four paces in advance. He declared that just for one moment he had distinguished something yellow, and the tiger was in his opinion, even then, crouching exactly before us. Telling him to fall back, my two dependable elephants took their places upon the right and left. My mahout advised me not to advance, but to fire a shot into the supposed position, which he declared would either kill the tiger or drive it forward. I never like to fire at hazard, but I was of opinion that it might provoke a charge, as I did not think that anything would induce the tiger to move forward after the numerous successful attempts in breaking back. I accordingly aimed with the No.12 smooth-bore carefully in the direction pointed out by the mahout, and fired. The effect was magnificent; at the same instant a loud roar was accompanied by the determined spring of the tiger from its dense lair. My elephant twisted round so suddenly to the left, that had I been unprepared I should have fallen heavily against the rail. Instead of this, my left hand clutched instinctively the left rail of the howdah, and holding the gun with my right, I fired it into the tiger's mouth within 2 feet of the muzzle, just as it would have seized the mahout's right leg. A sack of sand could not have fallen more suddenly or heavily. The charge of S.S.G. had gone into the open jaws.
The remnant of that skull is now in my possession. The lower jaw absolutely disappeared, being reduced to pulp. All the teeth were cut away from the upper jaw, together with a portion of the bone, and several shot had gone through the back of the throat and palate into the brain. This was a striking example of the utility of a handy smooth-bore in a howdah for close quarters. If I had had my favourite '577 rifle weighing 12 lbs., I could not have used it with one hand effectively, but the 7 lb. smooth-bore was as handy as a pistol. The wind-up of the hunt was very satisfactory to my men, all of whom had worked with much intelligence and skill.
There were so many wild pigs throughout the churs below Rohumari that the tigers declined to kill our baits, as they could easily procure their much-loved food. Every night our animals were tied up in various directions, but we found them on the following morning utterly disregarded. This neglect on the part of the tigers imposed the necessity of marching in line haphazard for many hours consecutively through all the most likely places to contain a tiger. Many of the islands were at this dry season separated from each other by sandy channels where the contracted stream was only a few inches deep; it was therefore a certain proof, should tigers exist upon the islands, if tracks were discovered on the sand. During the night it was the custom of these animals to wander in all directions, and it was astonishing upon some occasions to see the great distances that the tiger had covered, and the numerous churs that it had visited, either in a search for prey, or more probably for a companion of its own species.
If there were no tracks in the channel-beds, it might be safely inferred that there were no tigers in the neighbourhood. Nevertheless I continued daily to beat every acre of ground, and we seldom returned till about 4 p.m., having invariably started shortly after daybreak.
It would be natural to suppose that the elephants would have become accustomed to the scent of tigers, from their daily occupation, and that their nerves would have been more or less hardened; but this was not the case; on the contrary, some became more restless, and evinced extreme anxiety when a pig or hog-deer suddenly rushed from almost beneath their feet. This timidity led to a serious accident, which narrowly escaped a fatal termination.
We had been fruitlessly beating immense tracts of withered grass about 10 feet high, in which were numerous pigs, but no trace of tigers, and at about noon we met some natives who were herding cattle and buffaloes. The presence of this large herd appeared to forbid the chance of finding any tigers in their vicinity, and upon questioning the herdsmen they at once declared that no such animals existed in the immediate neighbourhood; at the same time they advised us to try fresh ground upon a large island about two miles distant up the stream.
We crossed several channels, after scrambling with the usual difficulty down the cliffs, quite 35 feet high, of crumbling alluvial soil, and at length we reached the desired spot, where a quantity of tamarisk filled a slight hollow which led from the river's bed up a steep incline. By this route we ascended, and formed the elephants into line upon our left. The hollow in which my elephant remained ran parallel with the line of march, and about 5 feet below. Just as the elephants moved forward, my servant, who was behind me in the howdah, exclaimed, "Tiger, master, tiger!" and pointed to the left in the high grass a few yards in front of the line of elephants.
I could see nothing; neither could my man, but he explained that for an instant only he had caught sight of along furry tail which he was sure belonged to either a tiger or a leopard. I could always depend upon Michael, therefore I at once halted the line, with the intention of pushing my elephant ahead until I should discover some tolerably clear space among the high grass, in which I could wait for the advance of the beating line.
At about a quarter of a mile distant there was a spot where the grass had been fired while only half-ripened, and although the bottom was burnt, the stems were only scorched, and of that mingled colour, black and yellow, which matches so closely with the striped hide of a tiger. There was no better position to be found; I therefore halted, and gave the preconcerted signal for a forward movement.
The line of elephants advanced. I was riding the large tusker Thompson, who became much agitated as a succession of wild pigs rushed forward upon several occasions, and one lot took to water, swimming across a channel upon my left. Presently a slow movement disturbed the half-burnt herbage, and I could make out with difficulty some form creeping silently forward about 40 yards from my position. It halted, no doubt having perceived the elephant. It moved again, and once more halted. I now made out that it was a tiger; but although I could distinguish yellow and black stripes, I could not possibly determine any head or tail, therefore I could only speculate upon its actual attitude. It struck me that it would probably be facing me, but crouching low. The elephants were now about 150 yards distant, approaching in a crescent, as the high grass was not more than the same distance in width.
I determined to take the shot, as I felt sure that the .577 rifle would cripple the beast, and that we should find it when severely wounded; otherwise it might disappear and give us several hours' hard labour to discover. Taking a very steady aim low down in the indistinct mass, I fired.
The effect was instantaneous; a succession of wild roars was accompanied by a tremendous struggle in the high grass, and I could occasionally see the tiger rolling over and over in desperate contortions, while a cloud of black dust from the recent fire rose as from a furnace. This continued for about twelve or fifteen seconds, during which my elephant had whisked round several times and been severely punished by the driver's hook, when suddenly, from the cloud of dust, a tiger came rushing at great speed, making a most determined charge at the nervous Thompson. Away went my elephant as hard as he could go, tearing along through the grass as though a locomotive engine had left the rails, and no power would stop him until we had run at least 120 yards. During this run, with the tiger in pursuit for a certain distance, I fully expected to see it clinging to the crupper; however, by the time we turned the elephant it had retreated to the high grass covert.
I felt sure this was the wounded tiger, although Michael declared that it was a fresh animal, and that two had been together.
I now pushed the elephant into the middle of the grass, and holloaed to the line to advance in a half-circle, as I was convinced that the tiger was somewhere between me and the approaching elephants.
They came on tolerably well, although a few were rather scared. At length they halted about 70 yards from me, and, as I knew that the tiger was not far off, I ordered the left wing (on my right) to close in, so as to come round me, by which movement the tiger would be forced to within a close shot.
Before the line had time to advance, there was a sudden roar, and a tiger sprang from the grass, and seized a large muckna (tuskless male) by the trunk, pulling it down upon its knees so instantaneously that the mahout was thrown to the ground.
As quick as lightning the tiger relinquished its hold upon the elephant and seized the unfortunate mahout.
I never witnessed such a hopeless panic. The whole line of elephants broke up in complete disorder. The large elephant Hogg, who had been seized, was scaring riderless at mad speed over the plain; a number of others had bolted in all directions, and during this time a continual succession of horrible roars and angry growls told that the tiger was tearing the man to pieces. A cloud of dust marked the spot within 70 paces of my position. It was like a dreadful nightmare; my elephant seemed turned to stone. In vain I seized the mahout by the back of the neck and nearly dislocated his spine in the endeavour to compel him to move forward; he dug his pointed hook frantically into Thompson's head, but the animal was as rigid as a block of granite. This lasted quite fifteen seconds; it appeared as many minutes. Suddenly my servant shouted "Look out, master, another tiger come; two tigers, master, not one!" I looked in the direction pointed, and I at once saw a tiger crouching as though preparing for a charge, about 40 yards distant: the animal was upon my right, and the elephant had not observed it.
I fired exactly below the nose, and the tiger simply rolled upon its side stone-dead, the bullet having completely raked it. Leaving the body where it lay, my elephant now responded to the driver's hook, and advanced steadily towards the spot where we had seen the cloud of dust which denoted the attack upon the mahout. Fully expecting to see the tiger upon the man's body, I was standing ready in the howdah prepared for a careful shot. We arrived at the place. This was cleared of grass by the recent struggle, but instead of finding the man's body, we merely discovered his waist-cloth lying upon the ground a few yards distant. About 15 yards from this bloody witness we saw the unfortunate mahout lying apparently lifeless in the grass.
We immediately carried him to the river and bathed him in cool water. He had been seized by the shoulder, and was terribly torn and clawed about the head and neck, but fortunately there were no deep wounds about the cavity of the chest. We bandaged him up by tearing a turban into long strips, and having made a good surgical job, I had him laid upon a pad elephant and sent straight into camp. We then loaded an elephant with the tiger, which we proved to be the same and only animal (a tigress) which had charged the elephant after my first shot. The bullet had struck the thigh bone, causing a compound fracture, and that accounted for the escape of Thompson without being boarded from the rear, as she could not spring so great a height upon only three legs. The furious beast had then attacked the elephant named Hogg, which, falling upon its knees, had thrown the unready driver. We subsequently discovered that he had a boil upon his right foot, which had prevented him from using the rope stirrup; this accounted for the fall from his usually secure seat.
The tigress, having mauled her victim and left him for dead, was prepared for an onset upon Thompson had I not settled her with the .577 bullet in the chest.
On arrival at the camp the man was well cared for, and on the following morning we forwarded him by boat to the hospital at Dhubri in charge of the keddah doctor. It was satisfactory to learn that after a few months he recovered from his wounds, and exhibited his complete cure by absconding from the hospital unknown to the authorities, without returning thanks for the attention he had received.
This incident was an unfortunate example of the panic that can be established among elephants. It is a common saying that the elephant depends upon the mahout; this is the rule for ordinary work, but although a staunch elephant might exhibit nervousness with a timid mahout, no driver, however determined, can induce a timid animal to face a tiger, or to stand its onset. Thompson had behaved so badly that I determined to give him one more chance, and to change him for another elephant should he repeat his nervousness.
A few days after this occurrence, the natives reported a tiger to be in a thicket of wild rose. We had changed camp to a place called Kikripani, about eight miles from Rohumari, and I immediately took the elephants to the wild-rose jungle, which was about two miles distant.
The usual arrangements were made, and I took up a position upon Thompson in a narrow opening of fine grass which cut at right angles through the wild-rose thicket. As the elephants approached in close order, I was certain, from the peculiar sounds emitted, that a tiger or some unbeloved animal was before them, and upon the advance of the line to within 30 yards of the open ground a rustling in the bush announced the presence of some animal which could not much longer remain concealed. Suddenly a large panther bounded across the open, and I took a snap shot, which struck it through the body a few inches behind the shoulder. It rolled over to the shot, but immediately disappeared in the thick jungle a few paces opposite.
I called the line of elephants, and we lost no time in beating the neighbouring bush in the closest order, as I fully expected the panther would be crouching beneath the tangled mass of foliage.
In a short time the elephants sounded, and without more ado the panther forsook its cover and dashed straight at Thompson, seizing this large elephant by the shoulder joint, and hanging on like a bull-dog with teeth and claws. Away went Thompson through the tangled rose-bushes, tearing along like a locomotive! It was impossible to fire, as the panther was concealed beneath the projecting pad below the howdah, and I could not see it. In this manner we travelled at railway pace for about 100 yards, when I imagine the friction of the thick bush through which we rushed must have been too much for the resistance of the attacking party, and the panther lost its hold; in another instant it disappeared in the dense jungle.
I now changed my elephant, and rode a steady female (Nielmonne), and the line having re-formed, we advanced slowly through the bush. We had not gone 50 yards before the elephants scented the panther, and knowing the stealthy habits of the animal I formed a complete circle around the spot, and closed in until we at length espied the spotted hide beneath the bush. A charge of buckshot killed it without a struggle.
According to my own experience, there can be no comparison in the sport of hunting up a tiger upon a good elephant in open country, and the more general plan of driving forest with guns placed in position before a line of beaters. By the former method the hunter is always in action, and in the constant hope of meeting with his game, while the latter method requires much patience, and too frequently results in disappointment. Nevertheless, to kill tigers, every method must be adopted according to the conditions of different localities.
Under all circumstances, if possible, a dependable elephant should be present, as many unforeseen cases may arrive when the hunter would be helpless in the absence of such an animal; but, as we have already seen, the danger is extreme should the elephant be untrustworthy, as a runaway beast may be an amusement upon open grass-land, but fatal to the rider in thick forest.
The only really dependable elephant that I have ever ridden was a tusker belonging to the Commissariat at Jubbulpur in 1880; this fine male was named Moolah Bux. He was rather savage, but he became my great friend through the intervention of sugar-canes and the sweet medium of jaggery (native sugar) and chupatties, with which I fed him personally whenever he was brought before me for the day's work; I also gave him some bonne-bouche upon dismounting at the return to camp.
Although Moolah Bux was the best elephant I have myself experienced, he was not absolutely perfect, as he would not remain without any movement when a tiger charged directly face to face; upon such occasions he would stand manfully to meet the enemy, but he would swing his huge head in a pugnacious spirit preparatory to receiving the tiger upon his tusks.
The first time that I witnessed the high character of this elephant was connected with a regrettable incident which caused the death of one man and the mutilation of two others, who would probably have been killed had not Moolah Bux been present. The description of this day's experience will explain the necessity of a staunch shikar elephant when tiger-shooting, as the position may be one that would render it impossible to approach on foot when a wounded and furious tiger is in dense jungle, perhaps with some unfortunate beater in its clutches.
I was shooting in the Central Provinces, accompanied by my lamented friend the late Mr. Berry, who was at that time Assistant-Commissioner at Jubbulpur.
We were shooting in the neighbourhood of Moorwarra, keeping a line as nearly as possible parallel with the railway, limiting our distance to 20 miles in order to obtain supplies. This arrangement enabled us to receive 30 lbs. of ice daily from Allahabad, as a coolie was despatched from the station immediately upon arrival of the train, the address of our camp being daily communicated to the stationmaster. It was the hot season in the end of April, when a good supply of ice is beyond price; the soda-water was supplied from Jubbulpur, and with good tents, kuskos tatties, and cool drinks, the heat was bearable. It was this heat that had brought the tigers within range, as all water-springs and brooks were dried up, the tanks had evaporated, and the only water procurable was limited to the deep holes in the bends of streams that were of considerable importance in the cooler seasons of the year. The native headmen had received orders from the Deputy-Commissioner to send immediate information should any tigers be reported in their respective districts; they had also received special instructions to tie up buffaloes for bait should the tracks of tigers be discovered. The latter order was a mistake, as the buffaloes should not have been tied up until our arrival at the locality; upon several occasions the animals were killed and eaten some days before we were able to arrive upon the scene.
This was proved to be the case upon our arrival at Bijore, about nine miles from the town of Moorwarra, where the zealous official had exhibited too eager a spirit for our sport. Two buffaloes had been tied up about half a mile apart, near the dry bed of a river, where in an abrupt bend the current had scooped out a deep hole in which a little water still remained. Both buffaloes had been killed, and upon our arrival early in the morning nothing could be discovered except a few scattered bones and the parched and withered portions of tough hide.
There were tracks of tigers upon the sand near the drinking-place, also marks of cheetul and wild pigs, therefore we determined to drive the neighbouring jungle without delay.
The neighbourhood was lovely, a succession of jungles and open grass-glades, all of which had been burnt clean, and exceedingly fine grass, beautifully green, was just appearing upon the dark brown surface scorched by the recent fire.
There were great numbers of the ornamental mhowa trees, which from their massive growth resembled somewhat the horse-chestnut trees of England. These had dropped their luscious wax-like blossoms, which from their intense sweetness form a strong attraction to bears and other animals of the forests; they also form a valuable harvest for the natives, who not only eat them, but by fermentation and distillation they produce a potent spirit, which is the favourite intoxicating liquor of the country.
If game had been plentiful this would have been a charming hunting-ground, but, like most portions of the Central Provinces, the animals have been thinned by native pot-hunters to an extent that will entail extermination, unless the game shall be specially protected by the Government. When the dry season is far advanced, the animal can only procure drinking water at certain pools in obscure places among the hills; these are well known to the native sportsman, although concealed from the European. On moonlight nights a patient watch is kept by the vigilant Indian hunter, who squats upon a mucharn among the boughs within 10 yards of the water-hole, and from this point of vantage he shoots every animal in succession, as the thirst—driven beasts are forced to the fatal post.
Nothing is more disappointing than a country which is in appearance an attractive locality for wild animals, but in reality devoid of game. I make a point of declining all belief in the statements of natives until I have thoroughly examined the ground, and made a special search for tracks in the dry beds of streams and around the drinking-places. Even should footprints be discovered in such spots, they must be carefully investigated, as the same animals visit the water-hole nightly, and in the absence of rain, the tracks remain, and become numerous from repetition; thus an inexperienced person may be deceived into the belief that game is plentiful, when, in fact, the country contains merely a few individuals of a species. It must also be remembered that during the dry season both deer, nilgyhe, and many other animals travel long distances in search of water, and return before daylight to their secluded places of retreat.
This was the position of Bijore at the period of our visit; the most lovely jungles contained very little game. Although our baits had been devoured some days ago, I could not help thinking that the tiger might still be lurking in the locality, as it had been undisturbed, and there was little or no water in the neighbourhood excepting one or two drinking places in the beds of nullahs.
We had 164 beaters, therefore we could command an extensive line, as the jungles, having been recently burnt, were perfectly open, and an animal could have been seen at a distance of 100 yards.
Having made all the necessary arrangements, the beat commenced. It was extraordinary that such attractive ground contained so little game. The surface was a delicate green from the young shoots of new grass, and notwithstanding the enticing food there were no creatures to consume the pasturage.
Hours passed away in intense heat and disappointment; the most likely jungles were beaten with extreme care, but nothing was disturbed beyond an occasional peacock or a scared hare. The heat was intense, and the people having worked from 6 a.m. began to exhibit signs of weariness, as nothing is so tiring as bad luck. Although the country was extremely pretty it was very monotonous, as each jungle was similar in appearance, and I had no idea how far we were from camp; to my surprise, I was informed that we had been working almost in a circle, and that our tents were not more than a mile and a half distant in a direct line. We came to the conclusion that we should beat our way towards home, carefully driving every jungle in that direction.
During the last drive I had distinctly heard the bark of a sambur deer about half a mile in my rear, which would be between me and the direction we were about to take. It is seldom that a sambur barks in broad daylight unless disturbed by either a tiger or leopard; I was accordingly in hope that the sound might be the signal of alarm, and that we might find the tiger between us and the neighbouring village by our camp, where a small stream might have tempted it to drink.
Having taken our positions-Mr. Berry amidst a few trees which formed a clump in a narrow glade outside, and myself around the corner of a jungle—the beat commenced. I was in the howdah upon Moolah Bux, and from my elevated position I could look across the sharp corner of the jungle and see a portion of the narrow glade commanded by my companion Berry; upon my side there was a large open space perfectly clear for about 200 yards, therefore the jungle was well guarded upon two sides, as the drive would terminate at the corner.
In a short time the usual monotony of the beater's cries was exchanged for a series of exciting shouts, which showed that game of some kind was on foot. We had lost so much hope, that the presence of a tiger was considered too remote to restrict our shooting to such noble game, and it had been agreed to lose no chance, but to fire at any animal that should afford a shot. Presently, after a sudden roar of animated voices, I saw ten or twelve wild pigs emerge from the jungle and trot across the glade which Berry commanded. A double shot from his rifle instantly responded.
The line of beaters was closing up. This was a curious contrast to the dull routine which had been the character of the drives throughout the day; there was game afoot, and the jungle being open, it could be seen, therefore immense enthusiasm was exhibited by the natives. Another burst of excited voices proclaimed a discovery of other animals, and a herd of eight or ten spotted deer (cheetul) broke covert close to my elephant and dashed full speed across the open glade. They were all does and young bucks without antlers, therefore I reserved my fire. We could not now complain of want of sport, as all the animals appeared to be concentrated in this jungle; another sudden yelling of the beaters was quickly followed by a rush of at least twenty pigs across Berry's glade, and once again his rifle spoke with both barrels in quick succession. I was in hope that the sambur stag that I had heard bark in this direction might be still within the drive, but the beaters were closing up, and the greater portion of the line had already emerged upon either side of the acute angle.
I now perceived Berry advancing towards me, he having left his place of concealment in the clump of trees. "Did you see him?" he exclaimed, as he approached within hearing distance. "See what?" I replied; "have you wounded a boar?" "A boar! No; I did not fire at a boar, but at a tiger, the biggest that I ever saw in my experience! He passed close by me, within 20 yards, at the same time that the herd of pigs broke covert; and I fired right and left, and missed him with both barrels; confound it."
This was a most important announcement, and I immediately dismounted from my elephant to examine the spot where the tiger had so recently appeared. It must indeed have been very close to Berry, as I had not seen the beast, my line of view being limited by the intervening jungle to the portion of the glade across which the pigs had rushed.
I now measured the distance from Berry's position to the tracks of the tiger, which we discovered after some few minutes' search. This was under 20 yards. The question now most important remained-Was the tiger wounded? A minute investigation of the ground showed the mark of a bullet, but we could find no other. This looked as though it must have struck the tiger, but Berry was very confident that such was not the case, as he declared the tiger did not alter his pace when fired at, but, on the contrary, he walked majestically across the narrow glade with his head turned in the opposite direction from Berry's position. He was of opinion that the tiger had not been disturbed by the close report of the rifle, as the noise of 164 beaters shouting at the maximum power of their voices was so great that the extra sound of the rifle bore only a small proportion.
We looked in vain for blood-tracks, and having come to the conclusion that Berry had fired too high in a moment of excitement, we now made the most careful arrangements for driving the jungle into which the tiger had so recently retreated.
This formed a contrast to all others that we had beaten during the morning's work, as it had not been burnt. The fire had stopped at a native footpath, and instead of the bare ground, absolutely devoid of grass or dead leaves, the withered herbage as yellow as bright straw stood 3 feet high, and formed a splendid cover for animals of all kinds. I felt certain that the tiger would not leave so dense a covert without an absolute necessity; at the same time it was necessary to make a reconnaissance of the jungle before we could determine upon our operations.