When tigers were pests

There was a time when tigers were considered pests. The time was towards the middle of the eighteenth century. That's the middle of the 1700s for the sake of clarity. The fact of the matter is that many people today still consider the tiger to be a pest. 

Tigers can still get in the way of day-to-day human life (the conflict in the Sundarbans region in Bangladesh being an example). Perhaps this is one reason why, despite an apparent concerted effort to protect the tiger, their numbers are still slowly declining and are precariously low (around 3.5k worldwide in the wild).

Tiger hunting during the British Raj in India
Tiger hunting during the British Raj in India. Photo in the publis domain.

A man called J. Forsyth wrote about the 'obstacle presented by the number of these animals [he was referring to tigers] to the advance of population and tillage'. It is old fashioned language meaning that tigers stopped the human population growing and stopped people working. His words were published in 1872 in his work The Highlands of Central India.

At that time the tiger symbolised evil writes Fiona Sunquist in Wild Cats of the World. Remarkably the tiger was thought of as being 'destructive, cowardly and treacherous'. The first descriptive word we can agree with but not the remainder. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Hunting tigers to slaughter them became a 'humanitarian pursuit'. During the British occupation of India between 1858 and 1947 (the British Raj) military officers entertained themselves by hunting them as fast and as furiously as possible.

Perhaps the champion tiger killer was a man called Colonel William Rice who killed 158 between 1850 and 1854. That's 40 tigers per year or one tiger every 9 days. It is hard to comprehend nowadays.

I suppose one of the issues is that for people in the West, we can look at tiger conservation in a pure sense. Westerners don't have to try and make a living with tigers around. When it comes to survival through work, tigers get in the way and in that competition between human survival and tiger survival the human wins almost all the time.

The conservation of the tiger has to be practical and it has to include the cooperation of the local people living with the tiger. One issue here is that most tigers are in India (Bengal tiger) and the human population of India is for ever growing exponentially. It is a simple matter of space for the tiger which needs hundreds of square kilometres in which to roam.


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