The Dreaded Man Eaters of Kumaon
1. Champawat Tiger
The Champawat Tiger was a Bengal tigress responsible for an estimated 436 deaths in Nepal and the Kumaon area of India, during the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century. Her attacks have been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest number of fatalities from a tiger. She was shot in 1907 by Jim Corbett.
According to Peter Byrne, professional hunter and author from Nepal, the tiger began her attacks in a Rupal village in western Nepal, Himalayas. Hunters were sent in to kill the tiger, but she managed to evade them. Eventually, the Nepalese Army was called in. Despite failing to capture or kill the tiger, soldiers organised a massive beat and managed to force the tiger to abandon her territory and drive her across the border (river Sarda) into India, where she continued her killing activities in the Kumaon District. All her kills happened during the daylight (as Corbett writes, he is not aware of a single case of a man-eating tiger killing a human during the night). Life across the region grew paralyzed, with men often refusing to leave their huts for work after hearing the tiger’s roars from the forest.
In 1907, the tiger was killed by British hunter Jim Corbett. The tiger had killed a 16-year-old girl, Premka Devi, in the village of Fungar, near to the town of Champawat, and left a trail of blood, which Corbett followed. After the whole day pursuit, Corbett had to abandon the hunt, deciding to use villagers and to organize a beat the next day in the Champa River gorge.
With the help of the tehsildar of Champawat, the beat was organized with about 300 villagers, and the next day, about noon, Corbett shot the tigress dead.
A postmortem on the tigress showed the upper and lower canine teeth on the right side of her mouth were broken, the upper one in half, the lower one right down to the bone. This injury, a result of an old gunshot, according to Corbett, probably prevented her from hunting her natural prey, and hence, she started to hunt humans.
In Champawat, near the Chataar Bridge and on the way to Lohaghat, there is a “cement board” marking the place where the tigress was finally brought down.
2. The Chowgarh Tigers
The Tigers of Chowgarh were a pair of man-eating Bengal tigers, consisting of an old tigress and her sub-adult cub, which for over a five-year period killed a reported 64 people in eastern Kumaon over an area spanning 1,500 square miles (3,900 km2). The tigress was attacking humans initially alone, but later she was assisted by her sub-adult cub. The figures however are uncertain, as the natives of the areas the tigers frequented claimed double that number, and they do not take into account victims who survived direct attacks but died subsequently. Both tigers were killed by Jim Corbett.
On December 15, 1925, a group of men from the village of Dalkania went up a hill to the hut of a Bhutia in order to complain to him for having seemingly allowed his goats into their crop fields. The man’s sheep dog was found dead, and the next day, his remains were found 100 yards from the hut.
Jim Corbett was called upon from Nainital to hunt down the tigers in February 1929. Three man-eaters had been reported in the Kumaon Division at the time, and Corbett chose to hunt the Chowgarh tigers due to their higher body count. A map recording the sites of each kill showed that the tigers were most active in the villages of the north-eastern face of the Kala Agar ridge. Corbett arrived at the Kala Agar Forest Bungalow in April that year after a four-day march. The last victim in the area had been a 22-year-old cattle grazer. The victim’s grandmother offered Corbett three buffaloes, in addition to his four, for use as bait. Upon receiving updates on the tigers’ whereabouts, Corbett set off to the village of Dalkania 10 miles (16 km) away the next day. Upon arriving, he was informed that the tigers had unsuccessfully attacked a party of women picking corn 10 miles (16 km) north of Dalkania. Corbett left for the village at 3:00 p.m. and arrived the next day, where he found the village in a state of panic.
Hunt for the tigers
At midday, Corbett left for the valley where the villagers had heard the tigers calling. By evening, he reached the upper end of the valley without having seen anything, and by the following afternoon, Corbett was met by a cattle grazer stating that the tigers had taken a cow that night. Tracking the tigers to a ravine, he found the predators eating the dead cow. Corbett fired at the lighter-coloured animal, assuming it was the adult. Upon hearing the shot, the other tiger bolted, and Corbett, upon examining the carcass, found that the dead tiger was in fact the cub. After the cub was shot, the tigress attacks on human became less successful, as she was sometimes unable to kill victims on her own.
First hunt for the tigress
The following day, Corbett decided to use the four buffalo baits. For ten days, there were no reports of attacks and the buffalos were untouched. On the eleventh day, a woman was attacked half a mile on the far side of the village. After dressing her wounds, Corbett tied a bait goat on a nearby tree, though it was not taken. Three days later, Corbett was informed that a woman had been killed in Lohali, a village five miles (8 km) to the south of Dalkania. Upon arrival, Corbett was approached by a village elder who implored him to save his daughter who had escaped from the tiger with serious injuries. Though Corbett dressed her wounds with permanganate, she died the following night. After a week, Corbett left Dalkania, though he promised to return upon hearing of another attack. During the journey, Corbett saw fresh pugmarks, and warned a buffalo herder nearby to be wary. Immediately after Corbett left, the herder was attacked by the tigress, which was driven off by the buffaloes. Before dying, the herder warned his village of the tigress’ presence.
Second hunt for the tigress
In February the next year, Corbett returned to Dalkania, where many deaths had occurred since his departure. Corbett tied a buffalo in the forest near the village, and shot two tigers accepting the bait. Upon inspecting the carcasses, he found that neither were the man-eater. After staying in Dalkania for a few weeks, Corbett left to attend an appointment with the district officials in the terai.
Third hunt for the tigress
On 22 March 1930, Corbett received an urgent request from his District Commissioner to go to Kala Agar, fifty miles from Nainital. On arrival, Corbett was told that the tigress had recently killed a woman in the vicinity. Corbett tied his four buffaloes from Dalkania in strategic locations, one of which was killed four nights later. The culprits turned out to be a pair of leopards, which were immediately shot in order to prevent them killing more bait.
Death of the tigress and post-mortem
On 11 April 1930, nineteen days after his arrival in Kala Agar, Corbett, along with two other men, tied the buffalo baits near an area where a young man had been previously killed. When positioning himself in a ravine, Corbett’s companions rushed to him, saying they had heard the tigress nearby. Corbett encountered the tigress face to face shortly after, sitting next to a large boulder. Corbett fatally shot the animal from a distance of eight feet, whose death coincided with an end to the attacks.
An examination of the tigress’ body showed that her claws and one canine tooth were broken and her front teeth were completely worn down. It was these disabilities that Corbett concluded led this tigress to having become a man eater as it was thus hampered in killing wild game.
Corbett used a 450/400 Nitro Express double rifle made by W.J. Jeffery & Co to hunt the grown up cub of Chowgarh tigress which was assisting the mother tigress in its attacks on human beings. Other rifle used by Corbett was a lighter Rigby Mauser made on Mauser 98 action by John Rigby & Co., which he refers to as 275 Rigby in his writings. This calibre is same as the 7×57mm Mauser. It was this 275 Rigby with which he killed the Chowgarh tigress on 11 April 1930 at a location Corbett describes as being two miles west of Kala Agar, a mountain village at the time.