Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


Mammals.—First among the wild animals of India must be mentioned the lion (Felis leo), which is known to have been not uncommon within historical times in Hindustan proper and the Punjab. At present the lion is confined to the Lion. Gir, or rocky hill-desert and forest of Kathiawar. A peculiar variety is there found, marked by the absence of a mane; but whether this variety deserves to be classed as a distinct species, naturalists have not yet determined. These lions at one time were almost extinct, but after being preserved since about 1890 by the Nawab of Junagarh, they have once more become comparatively plentiful. A good lion, measures from 9 to 9½ ft. in length.

The characteristic beast of prey in India is the tiger (F. tigris), which is found in every part of the country, from the slopes of the Himalayas to the Sundarbans swamps. The average length of a tiger from nose to tip of tail is 9 ft. to 10 ft. Tiger. for tigers, and 8 ft. to 9 ft. for tigresses, but a tiger of 12 ft. 4 in. has been shot. The advance of cultivation, even more than the incessant attacks of sportsmen, has gradually caused the tiger to become a rare animal in large tracts of country; but it is scarcely probable that he will ever be exterminated from India. The malarious tarái fringing the Himalayas, the uninhabitable swamps of the Gangetic delta, and the wide jungles of the central plateau are at present the chief home of the tiger. His favourite food appears to be deer, antelope and wild hog. When these abound he will disregard domestic cattle. Indeed, the natives are disposed to consider him as in some sort their protector, as he saves their crops from destruction by the wild animals on which he feeds. But when once he develops a taste for human blood, then the slaughter he works becomes truly formidable. The confirmed man-eater, which is generally an old beast, disabled from overtaking his usual prey, seems to accumulate his tale of victims in sheer cruelty rather than for food. A single tiger is known to have killed 108 people in the course of three years. Another killed an average of about 80 persons per annum. A third caused thirteen villages to be abandoned, and 250 sq. m. of land to be thrown out of cultivation. A fourth, in 1869, killed 127 people, and stopped a public road for many weeks, until the opportune arrival of an English sportsman, who at last killed him. Such cases are, of course, exceptional, and generally refer to a period long past, but they explain and justify the superstitious awe with which the tiger is regarded by the natives. The favourite mode of shooting the tiger is from the back of elephants, or from elevated platforms (macháns) of boughs in the jungle. In Central India they are shot on foot. In Assam they are sometimes speared from boats, and in the Himalayas they are said to be ensnared by bird-lime. Rewards are given by government to native shikáris for the heads of tigers, varying in time and place according to the need. In 1903 the number of persons killed by tigers in the whole of India was 866, while forty years previously 700 people were said to be killed annually in Bengal alone.

The leopard or panther (F. pardus) is far more common than the tiger in all parts of India, and at least equally destructive to life Leopard. and property. The greatest length of the leopard is about 7 ft. 6 in. A black variety, as beautiful as it is rare, is sometimes found in the extreme south of the peninsula, and also in Java.

The cheetah or hunting leopard (Cynaelurus jubatus) must be carefully distinguished from the leopard proper. This animal appears to be a native only of the Deccan, where it is trained for hunting the antelope. In some respects it approaches the dog more nearly than the cat tribe. Its limbs are long, its hair rough, and its claws blunt and only partially retractile. The speed with which it bounds upon its prey, when loosed from the cart, exceeds the swiftness of any other mammal. If it misses its first attack, it scarcely ever attempts to follow, but returns to its master. Among other species of the family Felidae found in India may be mentioned the ounce or snow leopard (F. uncia), the clouded leopard (F. nebulosa), the marbled cat (F. marmorata), the jungle cat (F. chaus), and the viverrine cat (F. viverrina).

Wolves (Canis lupus) abound throughout the open country, but are rare in the wooded districts. Their favourite prey is sheep, but they are also said to run down antelopes and hares, or rather catch them by lying in ambush. Instances of their Wolf tribe. attacking man are not uncommon, and the story of Romulus and Remus has had its counterpart in India within comparatively recent times. The Indian wolf has a dingy reddish-white fur, some of the hairs being tipped with black. By some naturalists it is regarded as a distinct species, under the name of Canis pallipes. Three distinct varieties, the white, the red and the black wolf, are found in the Tibetan Himalayas. The Indian fox (Vulpes bengalensis) is comparatively rare, but the jackal (C. aureus) abounds everywhere, making night hideous by its never-to-be-forgotten yells. The jackal, and not the fox, is usually the animal hunted by the packs of hounds occasionally kept by Europeans.

The wild dog, or dhole (Cyon), is found in all the wilder jungles of India, including Assam and Lower Burma. Its characteristic is that it hunts in packs, sometimes containing thirty dogs, and does not give tongue. When once a pack of wild dogs Dog. has put up any animal, that animal’s doom is sealed. They do not leave it for days, and finally bring it to bay, or run it down exhausted. A peculiar variety of wild dog exists in the Karen hills of Burma, thus described from a specimen in confinement. It was black and white, as hairy as a skye-terrier, and as large as a medium-sized spaniel. It had an invariable habit of digging a hole in the ground, into which it crawled backwards, remaining there all day with only its nose and ferrety eyes visible. Among other dogs of India are the pariah, which is merely a mongrel, run wild and half starved; the poligar dog, an immense creature peculiar to the south; the greyhound, used for coursing; and the mastiff of Tibet and Bhutan. The striped hyaena (Hyaena striata) is common, being found wherever the wolf is absent. Like the wolf, it is very destructive both to the flocks and to children.

Of bears, the common black or sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is common throughout India wherever rocky hills and forests occur. It is distinguished by a white horse-shoe mark on its breast. Its food consists of ants, honey and fruit. When Bear. disturbed it will attack man, and it is a dangerous antagonist, for it always strikes at the face. The Himalayan or Tibetan sun bear (Ursus torquatus) is found along the north, from the Punjab to Assam. During the summer it remains high up in the mountains, near the limit of snow, but in the winter it descends to 5000 ft. and even lower. Its congener, the Malayan sun bear (U. malayanus), is found in Lower Burma.

The elephant (Elephas indicus) is found in many parts of India, though not in the north-west. Contrary to what might be anticipated from its size and from the habits of its African cousin, the Indian elephant is now, at any rate, an inhabitant, Elephant. not of the plains, but of the hills; and even on the hills it is usually found among the higher ridges and plateaus, and not in the valleys. From the peninsula of India the elephant has been gradually exterminated, being only found now in the primeval forests of Coorg, Mysore and Travancore, and in the tributary state of Orissa. It still exists in places along the tarái or submontane fringe of the Himalayas. The main source of supply at the present time is the confused mass of hills which forms the north-east boundary of British India, from Assam to Burma. Two varieties are there distinguished, the gunda or tusker, and the makna or hine, which has no tusks. The reports of the height of the elephant, like those of its intelligence, seem to be exaggerated. The maximum is probably 12 ft. If hunted, the elephant must be attacked on foot, and the sport is therefore dangerous, especially as the animal has but few parts vulnerable to a bullet. The regular mode of catching elephants is by means of a keddah, or gigantic stockade, into which a wild herd is driven, then starved into submission, and tamed by animals already domesticated. The practice of capturing them in pitfalls is discouraged as cruel and wasteful. Elephants now form a government monopoly everywhere in India. The shooting of them is prohibited, except when they become dangerous to man or destructive to the crops; and the right of capturing them is only leased out upon conditions. A special law, under the title of “The Elephants Preservation Act” (No. VI. of 1879), regulates this licensing system. Whoever kills, captures or injures an elephant, or attempts to do so, without a licence, is punishable by a fine of 500 rupees for the first offence; and a similar fine, together with six months’ imprisonment, for a second offence. Though the supply is decreasing, elephants continue to be in great demand. Their chief use is in the timber trade and for government transport. They are also bought up by native chiefs at high prices for purposes of ostentation.

Of the rhinoceros, three distinct varieties are enumerated, two with a single and one with a double horn. The most familiar is the Rhinoceros unicornis, commonly found in the Brahmaputra valley. It has but one horn, and is covered with massive Rhinoceros. folds of naked skin. It sometimes attains a height of 6 ft.; its horn, which is much prized by the natives for medicinal purposes, seldom exceeds 14 in. in length. It frequents swampy, shady spots, and wallows in mud like a pig. The traditional antipathy of the rhinoceros to the elephant seems to be mythical. The Javan rhinoceros (R. sondaicus) is found in the Sundarbans and also in Burma. It also has but one horn, and mainly differs from the foregoing in being smaller, and having less prominent “shields.” The Sumatran rhinoceros (R. sumatrensis) is found from Chittagong southwards through Burma. It has two horns and a bristly coat.

The wild hog (Sus cristatus) is well known as affording the most Wild hog. exciting sport in the world—“pig-sticking.” It frequents cultivated situations, and is the most mischievous enemy of the villager. A rare animal, called the pigmy hog (S. salvanius), exists in the tarái of Nepal and Sikkim, and has been shot in Assam. Its height is only 10 in., and its weight does not exceed 12 ℔.

The Wild ass.wild ass (Equus hemionus) is confined to the sandy deserts of Sind and Cutch, where, from its speed and timidity, it is almost unapproachable.

Many wild species of the sheep and goat tribe are to be found in the Himalayan ranges. The Ovis ammon and O. poli are Tibetan rather than Indian species. The urial and the shapu are kindred species of wild sheep (Ovis vignei), found respectively in Ladakh and the Suleiman range. The former Sheep and goats. comes down to 2000 ft. above the sea, the latter is never seen at altitudes lower than 12,000 ft. The barhal, or blue wild sheep