The tale of a killer tiger in the days of the Raj.
In November 2018, authorities reported the killing of a female tiger that had killed at least 13 villagers in the hill country of central India. The problem of killer tigers is growing there, reports continue, because critical habitat and suitable prey are scarce. So it was more than a century ago, when, writes Huckelbridge (The United States of Beer: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink, 2016, etc.), a tiger called the “Man-Eater of Champawat” killed a reported 436 people. And not just that; in the author’s overwrought formulation, that tiger becomes “a serial killer that was not merely content to kidnap victims at night and dismember their bodies, but also insisted on eating their flesh.” Well, yes; it’s in the job description of a tiger that can’t find a deer to bring down. Intriguingly but somewhat clumsily, Huckelbridge joins the tale of the tiger to the history of colonialism and its extractive economies, with deforestation and habitat destruction combining to make of the Champawat tiger “a man-made disaster.” Surveying other such killer animals, among them a wolf or feral dog that killed 113 people in France and a Nile crocodile reputed to have killed 300, the author chases down the known facts of the tiger, which had roamed well outside its territory into the foothills of the Himalayas and was hunting the most readily available prey. Its end came at the hands of a game hunter named Jim Corbett, who tracked him down after a long search that turns purple at key moments: “And all at once Jim Corbett understands what’s been done to this poor creature, a story written in malice and pain. But the number 436 leaves no room for pity, and twenty feet affords him no chance at escape.” Such flourishes are unnecessary given the inherent drama of the story and the nice irony that Corbett would become a leading advocate of tiger conservation.
An overwritten narrative that will be of some interest to fans of apex predators.