(Last Updated on : 06-01-2014)
Indian wildlife under British included some dangerous and man-eating animals. During the British rule, several bounties were given out in various provinces to eliminate the dangerous beasts and poisonous snakes. Eventually, a centralised administrative machine began to oversee such efforts, resulting in a veritable war against errant species. Such practices were new to India as no previous ruler had ever attempted to exterminate any species. Within two decades of defeating the rulers of Bengal in the historic Battle of Plassey
in 1757, the British declared special rewards for any tiger killed. Other legitimate targets included large herbivores like the elephant
, the wild buffalo and the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros
. Further, rulers who preceded the British had often asked their local officials to eliminate tigers and bandits. The idea was to help push back the forests. It was part of the constant tug of war between axe and plough on one hand and the incredible ability of natural vegetation to spring back.
Part of the British animosity to the forest and its wild inhabitants stemmed from the situation in Bengal, the very first region of India they conquered. Much of eastern India suffered a major famine around 1770. As a result of the massive mortality, large areas of farmland remained uncultivated and reverted to jungle during the British era. The secondary growth was probably ideal habitat for deer and wild boar
and their chief predator, the tiger. Bounties aimed to eliminate cattle-predatory tigers. Fewer tigers meant more cultivation and more revenue. Unprecedentedly, larger rewards were given out for killing tigresses, and special prizes for finishing off cubs. Similar techniques had been honed to perfection in the British Isles whose prime predator, the wolf, had already been killed off by the time the British founded an empire in India.
Moreover, Colonial strictures against the annual hunts of the Santhal tribes removed a major check on wild animal populations. The disarming of peasants in the aftermath of the rebellion of 1857-58 often deprived them of the means of effective self-defence against wildlife. Various local systems of control and self-defence were being replaced by a new regime that sought to resolve conclusively the issue of human-wildlife relations. In the 1870s, local practices across British ruled territories were evaluated and the Government of India
worked hard to calculate the best method of exterminating wild animals. Over 80,000 tigers, more than 150,000 leopards and 200,000 wolves were slaughtered in the fifty years from 1875 to 1925. Thus, it proved that the animals were no longer safe where humans lived. A new page had been turned in the story of wildlife-human encounters in South Asia.