Shikar tales of Tumkur
In the aftermath of a victory on the battlefield, the prime task of an occupying force was to settle pressing issues of the administration of the occupied territory to smoothly achieve their aims of occupation.
On December 15, 1799, seven months after vanquishing the Mysore army on the battle field, the Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore, Arthur Wellesley, who was a Lieutenant-colonel in the coalition of the winning native and European armies, thought it very important to address the issue of tigers patrolling the vicinity of modern day Chitradurga.
In a letter from Srirangapatna to Lt Col Close published in the book Dispatches of Field Marshall Duke of Wellington compiled by Lt Col Gurwood, he writes, “In consequence of a letter from Colonel Oliver, an extract of which I enclose, I wrote to Government for an allowance for the destruction of tigers in the neighbourhood of Chittledroog, similar to that given in the Baramahal.”
Chitradurga, or Chittledroog as the British called it, today is a bustling city on the Bangalore-Mumbai stretch of NH 4, inhabited by over a hundred thousand people. And Baramahal district refers to areas under the present day Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts.
The shikar era was an age where shikaris or hunters – both legal and illegal, thrived on the big game of the nation’s forests. The Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act enacted by the British in 1912 and amended in 1935 was not strong enough to deter India’s wildlife like the cheetah from being hunted into extinction. This continued till 1972, when the Wildlife Protection Act was enacted, which stringently prohibited hunting of all wild animals.
The British literature as well as that immediately after 1947 makes it clear that during the days of shikar, the woods of Devarayanadurga were no different from other wildlife havens across the nation. The abundant wildlife in them attracted shikaris from far and wide. And being close to Bangalore meant this woodland was always within the eyesight of many shikaris.
There are numerous references to the big game of Devarayanadurga in the records of the British officers. Major General Dobbs wrote about the tigers in these districts in his book Reminiscences of Life in Mysore, South Africa, and Burmah. Dobbs was the longest serving British officer of Chitradurga division, when the British administered the old Mysore state from 1831 to 1881.
He has interesting narrations of tigers in the division, including in and around today’s Tumkur city. He claims that tigers and leopards were among the principal wildlife of the division and wreaked great destruction of life of humans and cattle. He tried preserving the game for fellow Europeans whom he would host for shikar.
He speaks of the presence of sambur (which the British of that time referred to as elk) near the Devarayanadurga hill top, apart from tigers in the forests around the hill. The common antelope (blackbuck) was so abundant in the areas surrounding Devarayanadurga, that one British officer shot 200 of these magnificent creatures within a few days.
He narrates how an entire dead blackbuck would be available at the Tumkur market for four annas. British officers also indulged in ‘jig-sticking’ or spear hunting of wild boar as well as shooting sloth bears in the division. He observes how the reduction of tigers and leopards in the division due to hunting led to an increase in wild boar which damaged crops.
He regretted the opening of Devarayanadurga forest for shikaar during his tenure as it led to the destruction of almost all wildlife there except the tiger.Another British officer, Lt Col Arthur J O Pollock, in his book Sporting days in Southern India published in 1894, gives interesting shikaar accounts from Devarayanadurga’s jungles, in particular, of the tiger. In October 1881, he scoured these jungles for several days looking for a tiger which was reported to be killing cattle in the vicinity.
Although a number of spotted deer, wild boar as well as sambur were driven out daily, he could not get a shot at the big cat. During a hunting expedition, the shikaris would employ ‘beaters’ who would create a ruckus by beating instruments to flush animals from their forest hideouts. And they would be accompanied by camp followers to help meet the needs of the hunting expedition.
Search for the big cat
Over a century later, Dr Uday Veer Singh, the then Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) of Tumkur District recorded the sighting of an adult tiger on the main road near Namada Chilume while patrolling Devarayanadurga forest in his official vehicle on a cold December night in 1996.
This sighting by an IFS officer was a pleasant surprise to Tumkur’s nature lovers who were used to seeing leopards at regular intervals and had not heard of the tiger’s presence here in a long time.
In August 2001, T V N Murthy, Honorary Wildlife Warden and wildlife activist of Tumkur-based Wildlife Aware Nature Club (WANC) claimed the sighting of two fully grown tigers inside this forest near the Namada Chilume area. Reports of tiger sighting here continued coming in including by the forest department officials through the first decade of this century.
Over 40 years before Singh’s sighting, noted hunter Kenneth Anderson wrote about his shooting down of a tigress, in his book Nine rouges and one man eater published in 1955. A tigress he named ‘The Hermit of Devarayanadurga’ had killed three people in the vicinity of Devarayanadurga village.
The tigress was said to be unusually aggressive and killed the gunman of a party of men that had gone to collect the body of an old woman whom it had killed earlier. He writes he shot it down after tracking it for four days.
In his book, Dobbs observes that the tiger is ‘migratory, and constantly came from different ranges to the superior cover in the vicinity of Daveroydroog.’ Lt. Col. Pollock in his book says the tiger of Devarayanadurga, had its beat ‘extending from here all the way south to Magadi town.’
Finally, Kenneth Anderson mentions that tigers had not been seen in Devarayanadurga’s jungles in ‘many a decade’ and the one he shot had migrated here ‘among flat, cultivated fields.’
Every forest and wilderness is blessed with its own rich history of tales and legends. Devanarayanadurga boasts of its own unbelievable stories that fortunately have been documented in literature over the centuries. We need to conserve this wonderful part of our country as it has many memories associated with it. And its heritage deserves to be preserved for posterity.