HL Deb 27 June 1873 vol 216 cc1485-9

in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether the Government of India had under its consideration any measure for the prevention of the destruction of life and property in India by wild beasts?—said, the question was one which concerned the welfare and safety of a numerous, remote and defenceless order of Her Majesty's subjects, and he need, therefore, he felt, make no apology for bringing it under the consideration of their Lordships' House. The outlines of the Question had been furnished in a paper recently read in the Society for the Promotion of Social Science by a meritorious officer of the Bengal Service —Captain Rogers —who was favourably known by his services in connection with penal institutions in India. That paper had, he believed, been forwarded to many of their Lordships. While he did not adopt all the assertions made and conclusions drawn by Captain Rogers, he could not but recognize and acknowledge the service he had rendered in dealing with that subject. The evil was not general, but it was very serious where it existed; and it existed in its worst form in Bengal, the North-Western Provinces, and in central India. It appeared from a Return for three years, that the average loss of human life in the British provinces from the cause referred to was 4,138. The reports for those provinces were, however, in themselves, incomplete, and did not extend to the native states, and it was, in fact, calculated that the number did not fall far short of 10,000. The Returns as to the loss of live stock were far more complete. They showed that in Madras 60 live stock were killed for one human being. There were no Returns for six districts, but he thought he might say that 100 live stock were killed for one human being. So that if 10,000 human beings were killed, the number of live stock destroyed would amount to 500,000. The value of those domesticated animals was uncertain, but might be set down as between £250,000 and £500,000. But that was not all—the sufferings and losses were not confined to the actual destruction of human and animal life, for still greater loss and suffering were caused by the loss of labour and produce by the limitation of culture, the interruption of traffic, and the habitual terror produced by these animals. Everyone, therefore, would admit the importance of the subject, and the Government were bound in honour and in duty to do something more than had hitherto been attempted. The sufferings of the people from wild animals, moreover, were much aggravated by the disarmament which followed upon the Indian Mutiny, for in consequence of that step being taken, the Government had deprived the people of the arms which they were formerly allowed to possess, and there could be no doubt that the want of arms had made them more submissive to the ravages of wild beasts. The extension of culture in the woods and the protection of woods were also causes that had contributed to the increase of the evil. The Indian Government were bound as far as possible to protect the lives and property of Her Majesty's subjects, and he would recommend that the whole question should be placed in the hands of the police. They should continue to make full and accurate Returns of the loss of life and property from wild beasts, and there should also be a continuance of the system of offering rewards for their destruction. In India, where everything was hereditary, there was a class of hereditary huntsmen. The native shikarries might be intrusted with a certain number of arms, for which they should be held responsible, and a special service might be organized in connection with these native huntsmen under English officers, such service adopting the use of a familiar name, but with an object in no way so atrocious as that applying to the former, might be appropriately termed "Tiger Thugs." He did not propose a settled general establishment; but experience had now shown, that to expect the wild animals of India to be destroyed by spontaneous efforts and under the existing system was hopeless. It might be supposed that in a matter affecting their lives and property, the natives might be trusted to defend themselves; but those who held such an opinion were little acquainted with the actual condition and character of the people of India. The people were incapable of undertaking the destruction of wild beasts, without the intervention of the Government; and they would go on for years, submitting to the infliction of their present sufferings. The active interference of the Government was not without example in India; and it was justified by the practice in France. In remote ages, the only method of preventing the multiplication of noxious animals was to offer rewards for the capture and destruction of wild beasts, and in France a regular department used to be kept up for the extinction of wolves and other destructive animals. The same question must be settled in India, and he trusted that the subject was either now occupying the attention of the Government of India, or that it would be brought under its consideration by the Secretary of State.


said, his noble Friend (Lord Napier) had done a public service by directing attention to the loss of life among the natives of India by wild beasts. It was a matter of the greatest public importance and he regretted that he was unable to assure his noble Friend that any particular or special means of preventing these losses and sufferings were at present under the consideration of the Government of India. According to the latest Returns, the number of persons who lost their lives by wild beasts was alarming and extraordinary, and the casualties were of such a nature as to make it almost imperative on the part of that Government to turn their earnest attention to the subject. As long ago as 1864 a despatch was sent to India requesting, the Government to look into the question, but no answer had been received to that despatch up to the present time. He proposed sending out another despatch, calling the attention of the Government of India to the first one, and urging the necessity of seeing after the matter. These Returns, however, for the future, would be systematically made, so that the subject would be kept in view. The last Return, which was that of 1871, showed that the extraordinary number of between 18,000 and 20,000 human beings in India lost their lives from wild beasts and snake bites, and that of these a very large proportion owed their deaths to tigers. It also appeared that there were extensive districts where cultivation was seriously impeded, and almost at a standstill, in consequence of the ravages of man-eating tigers. No doubt, the responsibility of the Government had been increased by the native disarmament which had followed the Indian Mutiny, but it was, notwithstanding, extraordinary that the people had not sufficient energy to go out and destroy these creatures. His noble Friend had made a suggestion that as there was a caste in India devoted to hunting, they should be formed into a corps who might be called Tiger Thugs. He was quite certain that if the Government announced its intention to form a hunting corps, for the destruction of wild beasts in India, they would be besieged with applications for enrolment in it. His noble Friend's suggestion, which was new to him, might be applicable to certain parts of India, and he would request the Viceroy to take the whole subject into his consideration.


said, that the Government of India had, of course; been aware that great numbers of human beings—men, women, and children were annually destroyed by wild animals, and that the evil had, to a certain extent, increased since the general disarmament of the population consequent upon the Mutiny, but he did not know that in any sense the Government of India could be said to be much to blame in the matter. For many years, handsome rewards had been allowed by the Government for the destruction of tigers, bears, wolves, &c.; but from some cause, which at present was not satisfactorily explained, it was clear that these animals were increasing in number. One point, however, deserved the attention of the Government. It was said, although he could hardly believe it, that in some cases English officers discouraged the extirpation of wild animals with the view of keeping the destruction of them in their own hands.