Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Champawat - the hunt of the legendary tiger

       Champawat is a small town in the Uttarakhand state in Northern India close to the border with Nepal. But in the thirties the town was close to extinction because of the exploits of the notorious man-eater - the Champawat tigress.
       When did the killings start is unclear; some accounts go as far back as 1890. However in 1903 the tigress was already such a great problem for the area, having allegedly killed more than 200 people, that gurkha soldiers of the Nepalese army hunted her all over Western Nepal. They somehow managed to get the tiger cross the border into India, where she became even deadlier - 234 victims in just 4 years. Nobody felt safe. Legends circulated that she was so brave that she hunted during the day, went around the streets and even did not hesitate to break into houses if she felt there is pray inside. Local authorities offered numerous rewards and militia went into the jungle to find her, but they met no success - the fear was so strong that even when confronted by the tiger most people were afraid to shoot her and hoped that they will manage to escape.
       So it was 1907 when the famous hunter Jim Corbett heard about the tiger. He was also an avid conservationist and wanted to kill tigers only when they were proven to be man-eaters, however in this case there was no doubt. He ordered the cancelling of all awards and hunting parties (in his words because no hunter hunts for awards and no hunter wants to be shot by colleagues) and went to the area, first to the town of Pali. He found the town streets empty, after the last victim 5 days ago all people were locked in their homes and the threat of starvation was imminent. Corbett's appearance was met with apathy at first, but after he survived a night outside while waiting for the tiger to show up he gained the trust of the locals and even persuaded them to harvest their crops while he stood guard nearby. He proceeded by carefully listening to all accounts and since he thought they were mostly unreliable - to visit the scenes where the tragedies happened.and concluded that the tiger has moved to the Champawat area.
       After a day or so in Champawat another victim was struck at the other end of town. Corbett was quick - he ran after the tiger mere half an hour after the incident. He followed the blood trail for about four hours until both the tigress and he managed to escape from each other; on the way he found a piece of human leg which greatly distressed him. On the next day he arranged a party of locals to make as much noise as possible on the hill with guns and drums as he waited patiently for the tigress to run away from the noise.After a series of misunderstandings with everyone he still had to run after her through the grassy fields, but finally he managed to shoot her three times with two different guns.
       While the crowds were celebrating around him Corbett discovered that the tiger's two canine teeth were broken, making her unable to hunt her regular pray and leading to her becoming a man-eater. He kept the skin and went around the area showing it to everyone so that the villagers knew they were now free. In 1944 he wrote a book giving this and various other accounts of of dangerous man-eaters. Currently, there is a plaque in the town on the place where the famous tiger was brought down for everyone to see, around a km from where she was shot. The picture of Corbett here is however most probably of another tiger (accounts of the matters are unclear).

Coordinates: 29° 19′ 48″ N, 80° 6′ 0″ E
Google Maps
Corbett's Book, The Man-Eaters of Kumaon

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