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Roy Chapman Andrews

American Naturalist

1884-1960


HUNTING THE GREAT INVISIBLE

Narrated by Jeff Riggenbach

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For many years before Mr. Caldwell went to Yen-ping he had been stationed at the city of Futsing, about thirty miles from Foochow. Much of his work consisted of itinerant trips during which he visited the various mission stations under his charge. He almost invariably went on foot from place to place and carried with him a butterfly net and a rifle, so that to so keen a naturalist each day's walk was full of interest.

The country was infested with man-eating tigers, and very often the villagers implored him to rid their neighborhood of some one of the yellow raiders which had been killing their children, pigs, or cattle. During ten years he had killed seven tigers in the Futsing region. He often said that his gun had been just as effective in carrying Christianity to the natives as had his evangelistic work. Although Mr. Caldwell has been especially fortunate and has killed his tigers without ever really hunting them, nevertheless it is a most uncertain sport as we were destined to learn. The tiger is the "Great Invisible"—he is everywhere and nowhere, here today and gone tomorrow. A sportsman in China may get his shot the first day out or he may hunt for weeks without ever seeing a tiger even though they are all about him; and it is this very uncertainty that makes the game all the more fascinating.

The part of Fukien Province about Futsing includes mountains of considerable height, many of which are planted with rice and support a surprising number of Chinese who are grouped in closely connected villages. While the cultivated valleys afford no cover for tiger and the mountain slopes themselves are usually more or less denuded of forest, yet the deep and narrow ravines, choked with sword grass and thorny bramble, offer an impenetrable retreat in which an animal can sleep during the day without fear of being disturbed. It is possible for a man to make his way through these lairs only by means of the paths and tunnels which have been opened by the tigers themselves.

Mr. Caldwell's usual method of hunting was to lead a goat with one or two kids to an open place where they could be fastened just outside the edge of the lair, and then to conceal himself a few feet away. The bleating of the goats would usually bring the tiger into the open where there would be an opportunity for a shot in the late afternoon.

Mr. Caldwell's first experience in hunting tigers was with a shotgun at the village of Lung-tao. His burden-bearers had not arrived with the basket containing his rifle, and as it was already late in the afternoon, he suggested to Da-Da, the Chinese boy who was his constant companion, that they make a preliminary inspection of the lair even though they carried only shotguns loaded with lead slugs about the size of buckshot.

They tethered a goat just outside the edge of the lair and the tiger responded to its bleating almost immediately. Caldwell did not see the animal until it came into the open about fifty yards away and remained in plain view for almost half an hour. The tiger seemed to suspect danger and crouched on the terrace, now and then putting his right foot forward a short distance and drawing it slowly back again. He had approached along a small trail, but before he could reach the goat it was necessary to cross an open space a few yards in width, and to do this the animal flattened himself like a huge striped serpent. His head was extended so that the throat and chin were touching the ground, and there was absolutely no motion of the body other than the hips and shoulders as the beast slid along at an amazingly rapid rate. But at the instant the cat gained the nearest cover it made three flying leaps and landed at the foot of the terrace upon which the goat was tied.

"Just then he saw me," said Mr. Caldwell, "and slowly pushed his great black-barred face over the edge of the grass not fifteen feet away.

"I fired point-blank at his head and neck. He leaped into the air with the blood spurting over the grass, and fell into a heap, but gathered himself and slid down over the terraces. As he went I fired a second load of slugs into his hip. He turned about, slowly climbed the hill parallel with us, and stood looking back at me, his face streaming with blood.

"I was fumbling in my coat trying to find other shells, but before I could reload the gun he walked unsteadily into the lair and lay down. It was already too dark to follow and the next morning a bloody trail showed where he had gone upward into the grass. Later, in the same afternoon, he was found dead by some Chinese more than three miles away."

During his many experiences with the Futsing tigers Mr. Caldwell has learned much about their habits and peculiarities, and some of his observations are given in the following pages.

"The tiger is by instinct a coward when confronted by his greatest enemy—man. Bold and daring as he may be when circumstances are in his favor, he will hurriedly abandon a fresh kill at the first cry of a shepherd boy attending a flock on the mountain-side and will always weigh conditions before making an attack. If things do not exactly suit him nothing will tempt him to charge into the open upon what may appear to be an isolated and defenseless goat.

"An experience I had in April, 1910, will illustrate this point. I led a goat into a ravine where a tiger which had been working havoc among the herds of the farmers was said to live. This animal only a few days previous to my hunt had attacked a herd of cows and killed three of them, but on this occasion the beast must have suspected danger and was exceedingly cautious. He advanced under cover along a trail until within one hundred feet of the goat and there stopped to make a survey of the surroundings. Peering into the valley, he saw two men at a distance of five hundred yards or more cutting grass and, after watching intently for a time, the great cat turned and bounded away into the bushes.

"On another occasion this tiger awaited an opportunity to attack a cow which a farmer was using in plowing his field. The man had unhitched his cow and squatted down in the rice paddy to eat his mid-day meal, when the tiger suddenly rushed from cover and killed the animal only a few yards behind the peasant. This shows how daring a tiger may be when he is able to strike from the rear, and when circumstances seem to favor an attack. I have known tigers to rush at a dog or hog standing inside a Chinese house where there was the usual confusion of such a dwelling, and in almost every instance the victim was killed, although it was not always carried away.

"There is probably no creature in the wilds which shows such a combination of daring strategy and slinking cowardice as the tiger. Often courage fails him after he has secured his victim, and he releases it to dash off into the nearest wood.

"I knew of two Chinese who were deer hunting on a mountain-side when a large tiger was routed from his bed. The beast made a rushing attack on the man standing nearest to the path of his retreat, and seizing him by the leg dragged him into the ravine below. Luckily the man succeeded in grasping a small tree whereupon the tiger released his hold, leaving his victim lying upon the ground almost paralyzed with pain and fear.

"A group of men were gathering fuel on the hills near Futsing when a tiger which had been sleeping in the high grass was disturbed. The enraged beast turned upon the peasants, killing two of them instantly and striking another a ripping blow with his paw which sent him lifeless to the terrace below. The beast did not attempt to drag either of its victims into the bush or to attack the other persons near by.

"The strength and vitality of a full grown tiger are amazing. I had occasion to spend the night a short time ago in a place where a tiger had performed some remarkable feats. Just at dusk one of these marauders visited the village and discovered a cow and her six-months-old calf in a pen which had been excavated in the side of a hill and adjoined a house. There was no possible way to enter the enclosure except by a door opening from the main part of the dwelling or to descend from above. The tiger jumped from the roof upon the neck of the heifer, killing it instantly, and the inmates of the house opened the door just in time to see the animal throw the calf out bodily and leap after it himself. I measured the embankment and found that the exact height was twelve and a half feet.

"The same tiger one noon on a foggy day attacked a hog, just back of the village and carried it into the hills. The villagers pursued the beast and overtook it within half a mile. When the hog, which dressed weighed more than two hundred pounds, was found, it had no marks or bruises upon it other than the deep fang wounds in the neck. This is another instance where courage failed a tiger after he had made off with his kill to a safe distance. The Chinese declare that when carrying such a load a tiger never attempts to drag its prey, but throws it across its back and races off at top speed.

"The finest trophy taken from Fukien Province in years I shot in May, 1910. Two days previous to my hunt this tiger had killed and eaten a sixteen-year-old boy. I happened to be in the locality and decided to make an attempt to dispose of the troublesome beast. Obtaining a mother goat with two small kids, I led them into a ravine near where the boy had been killed. The goat was tied to a tree a short distance from the lair, and the kids were concealed in the tall grass well in toward the place where the tiger would probably be. I selected a suitable spot and kneeled down behind a bank of ferns and grass. The fact that one may be stalked by the very beast which one is hunting adds to the excitement and keeps one's nerves on edge. I expected that the tiger would approach stealthily as long as he could not see the goat, as the usual plan of attack, so far as my observation goes, is to creep up under cover as far as possible before rushing into the open. In any case the tiger would be within twenty yards of me before it could be seen.

"For more than two hours I sat perfectly still, alert and waiting, behind the little blind of ferns and grass. There was nothing to break the silence other than the incessant bleating of the goats and the unpleasant rasping call of the mountain jay. I had about given up hope of a shot when suddenly the huge head of the man-eater emerged from the bush, exactly where I had expected he would appear and within fifteen feet of the kids. The back, neck, and head of the beast were in almost the same plane as he moved noiselessly forward.

"I had implicit confidence in the killing power of the gun in my hand, and at the crack of the rifle the huge brute settled forward with hardly a quiver not ten feet from the kids upon which he was about to spring. A second shot was not necessary but was fired as a matter of precaution as the tiger had fallen behind rank grass, and the bullet passed through the shoulder blade lodging in the spine. The beast measured more than nine feet and weighed almost four hundred pounds.

"Upon hearing the shots the villagers swarmed into the ravine, each eager not so much to see their slain tormentor as to gather up the blood. But little attention was paid to the tiger until every available drop was sopped up with rags torn from their clothing, whilst men and children even pulled up the blood-soaked grass. I learned that the blood of a tiger is used for two purposes. A bit of blood-stained cloth is tied about the neck of a child as a preventive against either measles or smallpox, and tiger flesh is eaten for the same purpose. It is also said that if a handkerchief stained with tiger blood is waved in front of an attacking dog the animal will slink away cowed and terrified.

"From the Chinese point of view the skin is not the most valuable part of a tiger. Almost always before a hunt is made, or a trap is built, the villagers burn incense before the temple god, and an agreement is made to the effect that if the enterprise be successful the skin of the beast taken becomes the property of the gods. Thus it happens that in many of the temples handsome tiger-skin robes may be found spread in the chair occupied by the noted 'Duai Uong,' or the god of the land. When a hunt is successful, the flesh and bones are considered of greatest value, and it often happens that a number of cows are killed and their flesh mixed with that of the tiger to be sold at the exorbitant price cheerfully paid for tiger meat. The bones are boiled for a number of days until a gelatine-like product results, and this is believed to be exceptionally efficacious medicine.

"Notwithstanding the danger of still-hunting a tiger in the tangle of its lair, one cannot but feel richly rewarded for the risk when one begins to sum up one's observations. The most interesting result of investigating an oft-frequented lair is concerning the animal's food. That a tiger always devours its prey upon the spot where it is taken or in the adjacent bush is an erroneous idea. This is often true when the kill is too heavy to be carried for a long distance, but it is by no means universally so. Not long ago the remains of a young boy were found in a grave adjacent to a tiger's lair a few miles from Futsing city. No child had been reported missing in the immediate neighborhood and everything indicated that the boy had been brought alive to this spot from a considerable distance. The sides of the grave were besmeared with the blood of the unfortunate victim, indicating that the tiger had tortured it just as a cat plays with a mouse as long as it remains alive.

"In the lair of a tiger there are certain terraces, or places under overhanging trees, which are covered with bones, and are evidently spots to which the animal brings its prey to be devoured. On such a terrace one will find the remains of deer, wild hog, dog, pig, porcupine, pangolin, and other animals both domestic and wild. A fresh kill shows that with its rasp-like tongue the tiger licks off all the hair of its prey before devouring it and the hair will be found in a circle around what remains of the kill. The Chinese often raid a lair in order to gather up the quills of the porcupine and the bony scales of the pangolin which are esteemed for medicinal purposes.

"In addition to the larger animals, tigers feed upon reptiles and frogs which they find among the rice fields. On the night of April 22, 1914, a party of frog catchers were returning from a hunt when the man carrying the load of frogs was attacked by a tiger and killed. The animal made no attempt to drag the man away and it would appear that it was attracted by the croaking of the frogs."

"One often finds trees 'marked' by tigers beside some trail or path in, or adjacent to, a lair. Catlike, the tiger measures its full length upon a tree, standing in a convenient place, and with its powerful claws rips deeply through the bark. This sign is doubly interesting to the sportsman as it not only indicates the presence of a tiger in the immediate vicinity but serves to give an accurate idea as to the size of the beast. The trails leading into a lair often are marked in a different way. In doing this the animal rakes away the grass with a forepaw and gathers it into a pile, but claw prints never appear."

From the book, Camps and Trails in China

More information about Roy Chapman Andrews from Wikipedia

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