Falling prey to the royal bait

wild conquests Hunting was one of the favourite pastimes of the rulers of Princely Mysore. S Narendra Prasad elaborates on this popular sport of byg

Falling prey to the royal bait

Hunting was once a favourite pastime for both the royals and the layman. Colonisation led to the emergence of another tradition, where hunting was not just a sport of amusement or necessity, but also a means of relaxation. Provincial rulers organised and hosted shikar camps for the British, who were generally representatives of the colonial government and also for the counterparts from other states of the country.

Mysore was not an exception to this. The Maharajas of Mysore were
well-known hunters and they arranged hunting expeditions regularly. During these expeditions, wild animals that created havoc in human habitations were killed.

The word shikar is a 19th century Persian terminology that means the hunting of game for sport. Tigers, panthers, bisons, sambar, spotted deers, barking deers, wild bears and pythons were either shot or wounded. There are records of a crocodile and two mahseers being caught in River Kabini during one such ventures.

Some of the dignitaries, for whom the shikars were organised include Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, the Duke and Duchess of the Netherlands, Lord Peel and Page, Prince Pratap Singh of Baroda, Maharaja Kumar of Bikaner and the
Maharaja of Jodhpur.

When shikars were conducted exclusively for the visiting Maharajas and other dignitaries, staff from the palace were deputed to carry on different tasks. The shikaris, who were either from the palace or local areas, were paid travel allowances along with daily ration. They worked as trackers, guides and assistants for the hunt and played an important role in such expeditions. Skilled hunters themselves, they had a commanding knowledge of the place.

Baits like goats and sheeps were purchased locally. The services of trackers and game watchers were also drawn. The expenses varied with the place and the service provided. The beat person was paid along with those who helped in the location of animals. All the arrangements were meticulous and were given paramount importance.

What the records say
The hunting expeditions of Princely Mysore were widely known. Many chroniclers who have made references to 19th century Mysore have described such expeditions in their writings. Among them, F H Buchanan, R H Elliot and R S Dobbs stand out. R S Dobbs talks about tigers roaming freely in Chitradurga and Tumkur regions in his book, Reminiscences of Life in Mysore, South Africa and Burmah. His description is based on his experiences while serving as Superintendent of Chitradurga division. He narrates hunting of tigers, cheetahs, bears, deers, antelope of several kinds, wild boars and even snakes.

In the 19th century, many European guests were entertained by the Maharajas of Mysore. Extensive hunting expeditions were arranged, which later turned into a popular recreational game among the royals. In fact, R S Dobbs has written about the killing of 48 tigers by following a method called the ‘pit method’. One European officer was even known to have shot down over 200 spotted deers in Tumkur and the flesh of an entire animal was sold in the local market for four annas!

The destruction of predators like tigers and cheetahs on a large scale led to the steep rise in a number of small games, especially antelopes and wild boars. This was the experience in Tumkur and Chitradurga districts. On the other hand, the increase in the number of tigers was creating havoc in the agricultural farms of Shimoga region. Looking at the wide destruction, the government invariably gave permission to get rid of the beasts. It was even announced that people who killed these tigers would be handsomely rewarded.

Controlling the damage
As time passed and the importance of ecology was being realised, circumstances changed too. The government then passed the “Mysore Game and Fish Preservation Regulation 1901 Act”, in a bid to prevent indiscriminate killing of wild animals and birds. The Act that came into force on February 1, 1902, defined game areas and provided protection to a wide variety of wildlife. Stringent laws were enforced to curb hunting practices.

In 1904, the government sanctioned an office for game preserves headed by a deputy conservator. Initially, G E Ricketts was appointed in charge of game preserves and A G R Theobald was appointed as shikari. In 1910, Devarayanadurga State Forest in Tumkur district was added to the list of game preserves as a tentative measure. After 1926, the Office of the Game and Tiger Preserves was transferred under the control of the secretary of the Maharaja and the forest officer of Mysore district. Like khedda, shikar was also brought under the purview of the palace administration.

A diary maintained by D N Neelakantha Rao, a game preserve officer in the 1930s, throws light on the administration and the day-to-day responsibility of the officer-in-charge. This gives us information about the travel within the core region of preserves and sighting of wild animals, reptiles and birds. The records of the palace establishment of the Maharaja speaks about the expenditures incurred by the Game and Tiger Preserves Department in its reports. For instance, the report for the year 1929-30 speaks about the increase in establishment charges including pay and travelling allowance paid at the time of shikars.

Sadly, the rich wildlife of the State paid a fatal price for the royal pastime.

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