Hunting, a royal pastime

Historical records and anecdotes indicate that the Wadiyars of Mysore were fond of hunting. The writings of travellers and visitors who visited the state during their time describe the royal family’s hunting expeditions. Killing wild animals were not banned those days, rather it was considered as a matter of prestige.

Even Tipu Sultan, a ruler of Mysore state, had kept several wild animals such as tigers, panthers and elephants in his capital Seringapatam, now Srirangapatna. Elephants caught in the wild would be tamed and made to haul heavy objects like wooden logs and carts. During Dasara, a fight between tigers would be arranged. People used to throng in large numbers to witness this.  

During the middle of the 19th century, wild animals roamed freely in Princely Mysore, sightings of tigers along with cubs were reported many times. In dry regions like Chitaldrug, now Chitradurga, there were many human-eating tigers and leopards. While, in forest regions, elephants would destroy the standing crops and human settlements in the adjoining regions. The Commissionerate would announce prize money to those who hunt such wild animals, in order to control the menace.

GP Anderson, superintendent of khedda operations in the southern parts of Mysore district, has written about his experiences in the wild, in the midst of beasts. With the commencement of khedda system, the government’s view on wildlife began to take a new form.

Archival sources preserved at Karnataka State Archives in Mysore throw much light on this. Some of these records like reports, letters and official and semi-official correspondence have been edited and printed under the title Selections from the Records of Mysore Palace, Volume III Game and Tiger Preserves of the Maharajas of Mysore by the Department of Archives, Government of Karnataka, Bengaluru.

Interestingly, Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in Bengaluru initially had a menagerie with many wild animals and exotic birds. At Mysore, the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens was established. During the rule of Chamaraja Wadiyar X, the menagerie at Bengaluru and the Mysore Zoo worked in collaboration, animals and birds were exchanged. In 1901, the menagerie was ravaged due to heavy rains. 

B L Rice’s gazetteers provide us with statistics pertaining to the death of human beings and the killing of wild animals. As many as 127 tigers, 377 panthers and around 2,690 other wild animals including hyenas, wild pigs, jackals and wolves were killed from 1890 to 1892. 

Game Laws

The large scale killing of tigers, panthers and other wild animals alarmed the Government of the Maharaja, and it passed The Mysore Game and Fish Preservation Regulation, 1901 (commonly known as Mysore Game Laws, 1901) to prevent indiscriminate hunting of wild animals and birds. The Act also aimed to protect fish diversity in Mysore. 

More watchers were subsequently appointed to keep an eye on unlawful activities in the forest. Accordingly, shooting without a licence was prohibited. 

The correspondence exchanged between Huzur Secretary and his subordinates in Tiger Preserve provide interesting details. Particularly the details and especially the diaries maintained by D N Neelakanta Rao, a Game Preserves Officer. In his letter dated August 28, 1933, he describes how two rogue elephants one each in B R Hills and Bandipur were killed. He has also written about the measurement of the tusks which were sent to the trophy room at Mysore Palace to be showcased for royal dignitaries and visitors.

His diary entries provide us information about the tracks, trails and routes of wild animals. We also get information about the bungalows hidden inside the thick forest, water holes, tanks, places to tie baits for shikars, hiding places, machans, watchtowers, blocks and block lines erected, and innumerable tanks in Bandipur, B R Hills, Antharasanthe, Berambadi, Kyathadevara Gudi and others. It also gives insights into the flora and fauna of the time.

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