LOS ANGELES — Marching in a broad circle outside the Universal Studios headquarters on Monday, a group of about 200 cats demanded “more cuddly representation” in television and film.
The felid contingent included house cats, pumas, bobcats, tigers, lions, leopards and even a few jaguars, each holding signs with messages like “Cats are more than claws!” and “Stop The Stereotyping!”
“What do we want?” a house cat shouted into a megaphone.
“Cuddlier representation!” the crowd of cats shouted.
“When do we want it!”
“After our nap!” they replied in unison.
Monday’s protest was prompted by Universal Studios’ 2022 thriller, Beast, but protest organizer Buddy the Cat said the felid group was protesting “decades of tropes and injustices committed against cats by Hollywood and TV.” Examples include the undead cat in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, the rampaging lion in Dutch horror-comedy film Prey (called Uncaged in the US), the many murderous felids in the CBS series Zoo, and Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell.
“We’re tired of always being cast as villains while dogs are the heroes. Take a cat like me, for instance,” Buddy told a reporter. “It’s easy to mistake me, with my razor sharp claws and ripped physique, for a threat to humans. But really I’m just a cuddly little guy who likes chin scratches.”
Linus, a 14-year-old Bengal tiger who starred as Richard Parker in the 2012 hit Life of Pi, said he was a young actor who didn’t know better when he agreed to portray the threatening antagonist.
“Now that I’m older and I have all this Frosted Flakes money coming in, I can be picky about the roles I accept and only choose movies I think will be Grrreat!” he told an interviewer. “But what about the next young tiger, or the jaguar fresh off the boat from the Amazon, who doesn’t have the power to tell the director a certain scene is offensive?”
Linus also took issue with the script, in which the writers have him refusing to share fish with Pi.
“Did you see the boat? It was filled with fish! What am I, some sort of glutton who’s gonna eat 200 pounds of fish while the human starves?” Linus asked, bewildered. “I mean, according to Hollywood we’re angry, dangerous, murderous criminals and we stuff our faces all the time. No wonder people are scared of us!”
Beast stars British actor Idris Elba and tells the story of a widowed medical doctor who takes his two daughters to South Africa, where they stay with a family friend and embark on a tour of the native wildlife.
Unbeknownst to them, an adult male lion is on a rampage after a team of poachers entered the reserve the previous night and slaughtered his entire pride. While Elba’s character, his two daughters and his friend (Sharlto Copley) explore the reserve, they discover the mutilated remains of an entire village’s population and eventually come face to face with the murderous lion.
“What’s all this barney, then?” Elba said when asked about the felid protest. “Well that’s unfortunate, innit, mate? I played a tiger in The Jungle Book, a proper tiger. I love cats.”
The actor, who rocketed to fame off the strength of his portrayals of Stringer Bell in American police drama The Wire, the title character in British detective thriller Luther, as well as major roles in franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Trek reboot movies and science fiction action-adventure Pacific Rim, said he’s taken the cat’s criticism to heart.
“Me and me mate Buddy, we like to grab a pint on the regular, d’ya know what I mean?” Elba said. “This tosh with the movies, it’s gotta stop. Me mate Buddy is a good bloke, innit? So if he says Hollywood has to have more positive portrayal of cats, then that’s what we’ll do.”
In addition to their negative portrayal in films, which felids likened to the offensive portrayal of Italian-Americans as mafia figures, many cats cried foul at the idea that one of their kind would harm the beloved South African actor Sharlto Copley.
“That’s a very offensive portrayal,” said Chonkmatic the Magnificent, King of All Cats. “Sharlto Copley is the guy who made District 9, about aliens who eat cat food. Everyone knows cats love District 9. We wouldn’t lay a claw on Sharlto!”
The northern Indian state of Uttarakhand was known for its ancient Hindu temples, the ruins of a once-mighty kingdom called Kumaon, and sprawling wilderness dotted with villages mostly inhabited by farmers and craftsmen living in the shadows of the Himalaya mountains.
But when Jim Corbett arrived in 1907, it was a ghost state.
Doors were closed, windows were shuttered, village greens were abandoned. The fields lay dormant, their crops unharvested and ripening on the vine as farmers refused to leave their homes. When people had to venture out for fire wood they did so only in armed groups, with dozens of adult men wielding blades and repurposed farming tools, making a ruckus as they set out.
No one dared go out at night. Travel between villages had become rare, and if necessity forced people to travel, they did so in the heat of the mid day and only in numbers resembling small armies.
It wasn’t war, disease or superstition that kept the people of Kumaon huddled in their homes, terrified to step out.
It was a tiger.
The Katarmal Sun Temple in Kumaon. The area is known for its temples and religious sites. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A map from 1857 showing Kumaon, highlighted in purple, on India’s border with Nepal.
Kumaon sits in the shadow of the Himalayas, with the Sharda River serving as its border with Nepal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Or a tigress, as Jim Corbett found when he set eyes on the first pug marks — paw prints — left by the notorious man-eater.
The paw pads of male tigers are ovular with distinctive gaps between the toes, while the impressions left by females are more compact, with toe pads that leave unmistakable teardrop shapes in mud and dirt. The pug marks revealed it was massive adult female Bengal. Corbett suspected it was the same tigress who had terrorized the people of Nepal from the late 1890s until 1903, killing hundreds before the Nepalese army was called in.
Not even the soldiers managed to stop her, and when the tiger’s death toll topped 200 and local leaders were running out of options, the army organized a massive beat — essentially a wall of people wielding torches and guns, advancing in unison — to drive the tigress out of her territory, over the River Sharda and deep into neighboring India.
They hoped the tigress would become someone else’s problem — and she did, continuing her reign of terror for four more years in Kumaon, bringing life in the region to a standstill.
Credit: Wild Trails
Credit: Wild Trails
The tigress was ruthless and efficient, striking farmers working the edges of fields, children sent to fetch wood, fishermen sitting by streams. She seemed to have lost her fear of man completely, hunting in broad daylight and picking her victims off regardless of whether they were alone or surrounded by others.
The local villages dispatched hunters who went after the tiger and never returned. Pooling their money — no small feat in a poor, rural state of India — they hired professionals who set out and weren’t heard from again. One party comprised of a dozen seasoned hunters armed with rifles tried challenging the tigress on her own turf, entering the jungle and using a fresh animal carcass to draw her out.
The tigress was cunning. She knew human hunting parties were after her, and she changed her behavior in response. Although the town of Champawat remained the center of her new territory, she widened it considerably and ranged great distances in between kills.
Instead of terrorizing one area, now she was stalking a wide swath of greater Uttarakhand. She’d appear on the outskirts of a village one day, killing a housewife out collecting herbs and firewood, then pop up 20 miles away by the next sunrise, striking as opportunity presented itself.
But the Demon of Champawat, as she came to be known, wasn’t the only tiger in the region. Many people who’d seen her didn’t live to provide a description, so she became the shadow at the edge of the forest, the monster lurking in the grass.
Every time villagers heard a tiger’s roar echo from the jungle, they dropped their tools and ran for the safety of their homes. Every roar became the roar of the Champawat tigress. She was seemingly everywhere at once, taking on almost supernatural qualities in the minds of those she terrorized.
A desperate community seeks help
The Tahsildar — a local government official who serves as administrator and tax collector — was desperate. Many of the families in Uttarakhand were subsistence farmers, meaning abandoned fields weren’t just taking an economic toll on the area.
If the local farmers didn’t harvest, they wouldn’t eat.
The Tahsildar was the one who had to look grieving parents, siblings and children in the eye, telling them the government would figure out a way to stop a “demon” who had eluded hunters and soldiers for years.
When the Tahsildar approached Corbett, the Champawat tiger had killed an inconceivable 434 people. No other animal in recorded history had taken as many lives, let alone evaded retribution during a nearly decade-long stretch straddling two centuries and the border of two countries.
The notorious man-eater was loitering around a village called Dhari, where it had been spotted on the outskirts. For three nights the villagers were kept awake by the roars coming from the man-eater at the edge of the jungle.
Others were trying to track the tiger, the Tahsildar said, drawn by the considerable reward for the hunter who could finally rid the region of its felid scourge.
But Corbett didn’t want the money, saying he had an “aversion to being classed as a reward-hunter,” and he asked the Tahsildar to call off the other hunters for fear of getting caught in friendly fire.
After the men agreed to terms, Corbett and his small party set off on the 17-mile journey to Dhari. No one came to greet them when they arrived, wearily dropped their packs and sat down in a central courtyard. The place looked abandoned.
“The people of the village, numbering some fifty men, women and children, were in a state of abject terror, and though the sun was still up when I arrived, I found the entire population inside their homes behind locked doors,” Corbett wrote in his memoir, Man-Eater of Kumaon. “And it was not until my men had made a fire in the courtyard and I was sitting down to a cup of tea that a door here and there was cautiously opened, and the frightened inmates emerged.”
“That the tiger was still in the vicinity was apparent,” Corbett wrote. “For three nights it had been heard calling on the road, distant a hundred yards from the houses, and that very day it had been seen on the cultivated land at the lower end of the village.”
Corbett confirmed it was the tigress he sought, and the death toll had climbed to 435 when villagers reported the disappearance of Premka Devi, a teenage girl.
Devi had been gathering wood and foraging with a handful of other women when the tigress leaped out of cover, snared her foot and began dragging her away. She fought, holding onto a tree branch while trying to wriggle free, but the man-eater let go of her foot, lunged forward and sank her teeth into Devi’s neck in the fashion tigers most often use when taking down prey.
When the other women came running back to Dhari, a party of men set out to find Devi, but found only blood and torn clothing.
While the Demon of Champawat was known for disappearing into the night after her kills and re-emerging miles away, for reasons no one understood she continued to stalk the outskirts of Dhari. It was as if she was determined to take another life from the same village.
After the locals told him the animal had a “habit of perambulating along” the road leading into the village, Corbett decided he would try for the tigress that first night before she decided to range miles away to another village, as she was fond of doing when she knew she was being hunted.
The first hunt: Fear and regret
James Edward Corbett knew rural India. The son of a low-level official in the British Raj, Corbett grew up in poverty among 12 brothers and sisters in the Indian countryside, where he learned to track and hunt as a boy, traversing rough terrain barefoot and deciphering the clues left behind in the jungle when big cats and other predators took their prey.
Today Corbett’s name is still familiar to the people of Uttarakhand, with the largest national park — land he helped secure for a tiger habitat — bearing his name.
Photographers on a tour of the tiger reserve in Jim Corbett National Park.
The tiger reserve within Jim Corbett National Park. Credit: Jim Corbett National Park
He’s remembered as a champion of the often-forgotten rural poor and a legendary figure in big cat conservation circles. Long before he became a tiger conservationist later in life — calling the extraordinary animals “large-hearted gentlemen” who avoided conflicts with humans the vast majority of the time — he’d built a reputation as a man who could handle the most dangerous felid predators, tigers and leopards who had developed a taste for human flesh.
These were not the canned “hunts” of modern day, facilitated by teams of guides armed to the teeth with cutting-edge gadgetry and tracking devices, chauffeuring well-off weekend warriors in climate-controlled vehicles and luring unaware animals directly into their paths. Corbett and men like him hunted at extraordinary risk to themselves, on foot, at the mercy of the most cunning predators on the planet.
But at 31 years old, despite his repute as an excellent hunter, Corbett was in new territory. The Champawat tiger was his first man-eater, and nerves got to him. As he stood watch that first night at the edge of the village, he wondered if he’d made a lethal mistake.
“I had spent many nights in the jungle looking for game, but this was the first time I had ever spent a night looking for a man-eater,” he wrote. “The length of the road immediately in front of me was brilliantly lit by the moon, but to right and left the overhanging trees cast dark shadows, and when the night wind agitated the branches and the shadows moved, I saw a dozen tigers advancing on me, and bitterly regretted the impulse that had induced me to place myself at the man-eater’s mercy.”
The next day, Corbett asked the men of the village to show him several spots where the tigress had been sighted, but they refused. He was determined to resume the hunt at night, taking advantage of the full moon, and the villagers knew every inch of the surrounding territory. He needed their cooperation if he was going to successfully navigate the terrain by moonlight, avoiding pitfalls and places where he was likely to be ambushed.
Instead, the villagers wanted his help with a more mundane — but vital — task.
The village’s “headman” told Corbett that “if the crop was not harvested in my presence, it would not be harvested at all, for the people were too frightened to leave their homes.”
So Corbett stood watch with his Martini-Henry rifle as “the entire population of the village” emerged, and with the help of Corbett’s men, began harvesting their crops in double time, clearing almost everything before the sun set.
Earning the trust of the village
Still getting nowhere with his requests that the villagers show him where the tiger had been spotted, Corbett changed his approach the next day. He would embark on a hunt, he announced, and sought to kill a ghooral — a wild, goat-like animal — to provide meat for his men. If some of the villagers were willing to help point him in the right direction, he’d hunt two ghoorals for the villagers as well.
Some men of the village, who had never seen anyone fire a rifle, accompanied the hunter and, for a short time, forgot about the tigress who had taken over their lives.
“The expedition was a great success in more ways than one,” Corbett wrote, “for in addition to providing a ration of meat for everyone, it gained me the confidence of the entire village. Shikar yarns, as everyone knows, never lose anything in repetition, and while the ghooral were being skinned and divided up the three men who had accompanied me gave full rein to their imagination, and from where I sat in the open, having breakfast, I could hear the exclamations of the assembled crowd when they were told that the ghooral had been shot at a range of over a mile.”
With their neighbors and friends vouching for him, the villagers were more willing to believe this man who had arrived seemingly from nowhere, at the behest of the Tahsildar, really was a competent hunter and might be the one who could finally stop the tigress.
After they ate, some of the men — having seen Corbett’s professionalism and marksmanship for themselves — agreed to show him the tiger’s recent haunts.
The men brought Corbett to the stand of trees where Devi had been ambushed. Noting that “jungle signs are a true record of all that has transpired,” Corbett realized the tigress had approached the group of women from a ravine, slipping between a pair of large rocks unseen before seeing her opportunity.
“The victim had been the first to cut all the leaves she needed,” Corbett wrote, “and as she was letting herself down by a branch some two inches in diameter the tigress had crept forward and, standing up on her hind legs, had caught the woman by the foot and pulled her down into the ravine.
“The branch showed the desperation with which the unfortunate woman had clung to it, for adhering to the rough oak bark where the branch, and eventually the leaves, had slipped through her grasp were strands of skin which had been torn from the palms of her hands and fingers.”
A blood trail ran from the ravine to the ground cover of some bushes where the Champawat tiger “had eaten her kill.”
The party found Devi’s clothes “and a few pieces of bone which we wrapped up in the clean cloth we had brought for the purpose.”
“Pitifully little as these remains were, they would suffice for the cremation ceremony which would ensure the ashes of the high caste woman reaching Mother Ganges.”
For the next three days, Corbett tried unsuccessfully to find traces of the tigress as he moved between her haunts from dawn to dusk.
Following the trail to Champawat
It was clear the big cat had moved on, so the hunter and his men decided to walk to Champawat town, the closest thing to a population center in the area. There, perhaps, they could pick up the trail again.
While on the road they were joined by local men who wanted to help, their numbers swelling as they passed villages. Some of the men told Corbett they’d seen the tigress dragging a still-living, screaming woman in a valley below the main road to Champawat two months earlier. Frozen with fear, the men did nothing even as the victim screamed for help and beat her fists against the predator’s flank. They were ashamed, they told Corbett, but they were farmers armed with sickles and machetes, without a firearm between them, terrified of approaching an animal who had killed everyone who went after her.
Corbett took up residence in an abandoned hut close to the site of several earlier killings, looking for signs of the tiger. Two days later, a man from Champawat town came running up, out of breath.
The tiger had struck again, he said. A girl of about 16 or 17 years was gathering sticks with a group of women when the tiger pounced, snapping her up in its jaws and already dragging the victim away before the others realized what was happening.
He brought Corbett to the spot, and the hunter began to follow a distinct blood trail. After following the predator’s path through nettles and over difficult-to-negotiate rocks, Corbett descended into a ravine where a pool of freshwater fed a stream.
He’d recovered the victim’s shattered necklace of bright blue beads and found her sari at the top of a hill, but now Corbett found himself looking at something he couldn’t place in context until he realized with horror that it was the girl’s leg “bitten off a little below the knee as clean as though severed by the stroke of an axe, out of which warm blood was trickling.”
Without knowing how close he was, Corbett had blundered his way in and interrupted the tigress in mid-meal. Now, he realized, he was standing still, exposed at the bottom of the ravine.
He turned and raised his rifle just in time to save his own life. The tigress had the high ground and was about to strike but turned and bolted when it saw the weapon, dislodging dirt and rocks from the lip of the ravine.
Corbett ran after her.
For the first time the tigress was put on the defensive, carrying her kill as she sought to shake the hunter on her tail. Several times Corbett found a larger pool of blood where the tigress had briefly put the girl’s body down.
Annoyed that a human was actually following her rather than running in the other direction, the tigress “now began to show her resentment by growling.” It was an intimidation tactic by a skilled predator who understood something of human psychology. When she realized Corbett still wasn’t dissuaded from following, the tigress went silent again so she wouldn’t give away her position.
Corbett’s heart pumped and he was driven on by a heady brew of excitement and fear. He could be eviscerated at any moment, or he could be the one who finally stopped the Demon of Champawat, killing her on the day she claimed her 436th victim.
It wasn’t to be.
With the sun low on the horizon, Corbett knew he had to backtrack to avoid being stuck in the open at night with the irritated tiger fixated on him. He made his way back, drawing relieved sighs from his new friends as he reappeared.
Hunter and hunted
That night, Corbett decided to change tactics. Instead of chasing the Demon of Champawat, he’d organize a beat like the Nepalese army had years ago, but this time instead of driving the tigress across a river, they’d attempt to drive her to Corbett and his rifle.
With the help of the Tahsildar, Corbett was able to enlist 298 men by noon of the next day, a ragtag group carrying weapons that “would have stocked a museum,” including a handful of vintage, illegal firearms. The Tahsildar distributed ammunition to the men who had guns, and Corbett had them line up on the ridge where the tigress had killed her last victim.
Corbett continued to the next hill with the Tahsildar. The terrain was rough and their progress slow. Perhaps believing Corbett had forgotten to signal, the men fired their weapons into the air and made as much noise as they could by shouting, beating drums and rolling rocks down the ridge. Leaving the Tahsildar on the hill, the hunter ran to an open field ahead and positioned himself between the ridge and a gorge, hiding in waist-high grass with his rifle.
He caught movement in the distance. It was the tigress. But instead of running from the commotion, she made to move toward it.
“When the din was at its worst I caught sight of the tigress bounding down a grassy slope between two ravines to my right front, and about three hundred yards away,” Corbett recalled. “On hearing the shots the tigress whipped round and went straight back the way she had come, and as she disappeared into the thick cover I threw up my rifle and sent a despairing bullet after her.”
The nearly 300-strong group spanning the top of the ridge threw up a cheer, thinking Corbett must have taken the tiger down with the shot. They fired off the last of their rounds in celebration. Corbett listened with grim anticipation, expecting to hear screams at any moment as the tigress broke cover and attacked the men.
But the Demon of Champawat had thought better of it and reappeared, running for the gorge behind Corbett at full speed.
Corbett raised his rifle and squeezed off another round.
“When the tigress stopped dead,” he wrote, “I thought the bullet had gone over her back, and that she had pulled up on finding her retreat cut off.”
But as he watched the murderous big cat regard him, Corbett realized he’d injured her. She lowered her head, closing to within thirty yards. Corbett fired again. The bullet missed its target. The tigress flinched but stood her ground “with her ears laid flat and bared teeth.”
Both man and tiger were unsure what to do next. Corbett froze. His rifle was empty. He’d brought three cartridges, reasoning he’d get no more than two shots off no matter what happened. The third, he wrote, was for emergencies. The tigress made to charge, coiling her body as she crouched low.
But the big cat had no way of knowing Corbett was out of ammunition and turned slowly, keeping an eye on the man who had clipped her. Then she took off, bounding over a stream, across a rough span of rocks and up the nearby hill.
Corbett ran back to the Tahlsidar and took his rifle, then went after the tigress.
He climbed the hill warily and watched the tigress turn to face him again. She charged. Praying that the Tahsildar’s rifle would strike true, Corbett aimed for the enraged cat’s head — and missed. But the shot caught the tigress’ right paw. She lurched, lost her footing and collapsed, coming to rest on the lip of a large rock at the summit of the hill.
One of Corbett’s earlier shots must have been more accurate than he realized, and the charge was the last desperate move by the severely injured animal. But Corbett didn’t have the time to think about that because the men of the beat were coming closer, screaming and working themselves into a frenzy.
“There it is on the rock!” one man shouted. “Pull it down and let us hack it to bits!”
“This is the shaitan that killed my wife and my two sons!” the ring-leader declared, waving a sword.
But reason prevailed, the crowd’s rage died down, and for the first time Corbett was able to examine the tiger up close. He saw something he’d find again and again over the following years, as he became a famed hunter with a reputation for stopping man-eating tigers and leopards.
Tigers don’t become man-eaters by choice, and there’s no evidence they enjoy eating humans. Eating people is a dangerous business even for apex predators, who tend to have short lives once they start hunting humans.
They do it out of necessity, almost always as a result of human action: Hunters who hobble them but fail to finish the job, or fire errant shots that shatter one of their terrifying canines, rendering them incapable of taking down their usual prey, or making their preferred hunts much more difficult.
Those unfortunate tigers are left with two options: Find easier-to-kill prey, or starve to death. Even if the taste of human flesh is revolting to them, the madness of hunger compels them to hunt.
That, it turns out, is exactly what had turned the Chamapwat tiger into a man-eater. A hunter’s shot wasn’t true and shattered two of the big cat’s fangs, impeding her ability to deliver a proper kill bite in the instinctive fashion tigers kill their prey.
“When the tigress had stood on the rock looking down at me I had noticed that there was something wrong with her mouth, and on examining her now I found that the upper and lower canine teeth on the right side of her mouth were broken, the upper one in half, and the lower one right down to the bone,” Corbett wrote. “This permanent injury to her teeth — the result of a gun-shot wound — had prevented her from killing her natural prey, and had been the cause of her becoming a man-eater.”
The truth, sadly, is that man-eaters are almost always “created” by men.
“A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it,” Corbett wrote. “The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case old age. The wound that has caused a particular tiger to take to man-eating might be the result of a carelessly fired shot and failure to follow up and recover the wounded animal, or be the result of the tiger having lost his temper when killing a porcupine. Human beings are not the natural prey of tigers, and it is only when tigers have been incapacitated through wounds or old age that, in order to live, they are compelled to take a diet of human flesh.”
While tigers become man-eaters out of necessity and don’t like the taste of human flesh, man-eaters are not “old and mangy,” as some people believe, and there’s no indication that human flesh is detrimental to them. On the contrary, Corbett wrote, a diet of human flesh “has quite the opposite effect, for all the man-eaters I have seen have had remarkably fine coats.”
The last tigers
Today, with the World Wildlife Federation warning we’ve wiped out an incomprehensible 70 percent of the world’s wildlife in the last 50 years, and tigers numbering only 4,000 or so in the wild, you’d think man-eaters would be a thing of the past.
They’re not. In a five-year period from 2014 to 2019, tigers killed 255 people in India, where the majority of the world’s remaining wild tigers live.
In 2014, a male Bengal killed at least 10 people in northern India before moving on or limiting himself to natural prey. His reign of terror cast a shadow over a wide section of southern India’s Tamil Nadu. Some 65 schools were closed, people refused to travel at night and families stayed behind locked doors just as their countrymen did a hundred years ago when the Champawat tiger killed with impunity. The male tiger was never caught.
That same year, a man-eater who had killed three people was shot dead before it could take more lives. Local authorities used modern tools, including a network of 65 trail cameras, to hunt the big cat. Since then there have been sporadic conflicts between the big cats and rural villagers, often sparked by tigers and leopards going after livestock.
The felid-human conflicts happen because of habitat destruction. The tigers simply can’t avoid people because people are everywhere.
Yet even Corbett, who was known for killing them, eventually became known for saving them. By becoming the foremost expert on man-eaters after successfully hunting 33 of them, he understood better than anyone the pressures faced by big cats in a world where humans were rapidly expanding and clearing jungle.
A hundred years ago when India was home to an estimated 100,000 tigers and 300 million people, Corbett understood the tigers were in danger. Now the tigers number 4,000 and the humans 1.4 billion, and the situation for one of nature’s most iconic animals is extremely precarious.
Corbett played a big part in changing attitudes toward tigers and other big cats. A century ago most people hadn’t even heard of the concept of conservation. Corbett believed it’s possible for humans and big cats to live in proximity, and indeed India has seen the peculiar emergence of the so-called “urban leopard,” with that species proving adaptable as its surroundings change. Conservationists credit leopards with saving countless human lives by preying on the innumerable wild dogs who patrol the outskirts of cities and towns, including major cities like Mumbai.
“The author who first used the words ‘as cruel as a tiger’ and ‘as bloodthirsty as a tiger’ when attempting to emphasize the evil character of the villain of his piece, not only showed a lamentable ignorance of the animal he defamed, but coined phrases which have come into universal circulation, and which are mainly responsible for the wrong opinion of tigers held by all except that very small proportion of the public who have the opportunity of forming their own opinions,” Corbett wrote almost 40 years after the events in Champawat.
Reflecting on his youth in the British Raj, the hunts he embarked on as a kid and as a teenager, and the nights he spent alone in the jungle with nothing but a small fire to keep him company, Corbett recalled hearing the calls of tigers and knowing that “a tiger, unless molested, would do him no harm.”
He recalled stumbling upon a tiger as he was hunting jungle fowl, watching the huge cat emerge from a plum bush and regard him with a look that said: “‘Hello, kid, what are you doing here?’ And, receiving no answer, turning around and walking away very slowly without once looking back.”
“And then I think of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who, while working in the forests or cutting grass or collecting dry sticks, pass day by day close to where tigers are lying up and who, when they return safely to their homes, do not even know that they have been under the observation of this so-called ‘cruel’ and ‘bloodthirsty’ animal.”
Corbett dedicated the later part of his life to the conservation and protection of tigers, and India’s first national park was named in his honor. In 1973, Jim Corbett National Park — an area covering more than 520 square kilometers — became the first implementation site for Project Tiger, a conservation plan by India’s government that has been credited with increasing the number of wild tigers in the country by three-fold, from a dismal low of 1,411 tigers in 2006 to almost 4,000 today.
And in 1968, Czech biologist Vratislav Mazák named a newly-recognized subspecies — the Indochinese tiger — Panthera tigris corbetti in honor of the famed hunter.
More than anyone, Corbett understood how dangerous tigers can be, but he also came to appreciate their strength, beauty and spirit.
“The tiger is a large hearted gentleman with boundless courage,” he wrote decades after that first man-eater hunt, “and that when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be, unless public opinion rallies to his support – India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”
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Cats come in many different sizes and coat colors, but there’s one thing they all have in common: A love of food. This week we asked nine kitties what their favorite fancy feast is.
“Sea urchin ceviche and smoked duck from Dorsia. Don’t even try, you can’t get a reservation.” – Santorini, 4, Roomba rider
“Human. Haha. Just kidding. I’m partial to Hokkaido Wagyu ribeye or Omi beef filet, lightly pan-seared but still juicy and bloody.” – Dere Khan, 14, jungle ruler
“My human makes a spectacular moussaka just for me, filled with pate and topped with creamy Béchamel sauce that melts in my mouth. Then she feeds me tiramisu.” – Robin, 6 months, good kitten
“Crisp-skinned filet mignon bathed in suculent yuzu kosho, garnished with bacon and served with a side of steak tartare cakes.” – Sammy, 5 months, laser hunter
“Lobster frittata with Sevruga caviar. Nothing too fancy.” – Luisa Rey, 1, catnip quality control tester
“I’ll have the Chilean sea bass, human.” – Hiro, 3 months, nocturnal terror
“Grass-fed Ibérico ham glazed with honey. Such a simple snack, yet so satisfying.” – Stella, 5, cat food commercial model
“I’d have to say the roast swan stuffed with oysters, white beans and bacon. Raw caiman marinated in swamp water would be a close second.” – Xbalanque, 7 months, reincarnated jaguar deity
“Rack of lamb baked in a crust of garlic and herbs, fermented mare’s milk, buttered snails and fried goose liver. Humble fare, to be sure, but my human is a capable cook.” – Stay Puft, 11, book shop cat
STAR COMMANDER BUDDY’S LOG, STARDATE 12142022, Aboard the USS Fowl Play
Lt. Commander Freddie Ferocious has command of the bridge while I’ve retired to my ready room for the important task of answering video messages from kittens in Mrs. Meowmore’s Kittengarden class.
Myles, a three-month-old tuxedo who wants to be a catstronaut when he grows up, has asked me how catstronauts eat and use the litter box in zero gravity.
“Well, Myles,” I tell him, “as you may have guessed, regular litter is no good without gravity! You can’t bury your business, obviously, and you run the risk of free-floating poops and granules of litter escaping into the ship’s habitable areas, so a litter box is out of the question. That is why we have a sealed Litter Chamber and a special suction device. It takes some getting used to, especially since it tends to pull on your fur while you’re doing your business!”
Sophia, a five-month-old Calico, asks us what we eat in space.
“This morning at 0100 hours I was informed that our food replicators are malfunctioning, which means the entire crew has had to make do with freeze-dried kibble and pate MREs. No wonder we’re all so cranky! I have ordered the engineering department to devote all available resources and catpower toward the repair of the replicators. This simply cannot be allowed to go unresolved, for a cranky crew can easily become a mewtinous one, and I don’t want to have to start spacing kitties out of the airlock. Er, I mean throwing ’em in the brig! Chief Engineer Meowdi LaForge tells me the replicators should be back online by breakfast.”
Simba, three and a half months, asks: “Dear Commander Buddy, how far are you from the place you’re traveling to, and what will you do when you get there? Is it true there might be monsters? That would be scary!”
“Thanks for writing, Simba! It’s 10.47 light years to the Epsilon Eridani star system, which is a long ride! Fortunately the USS Fowl Play is a pretty big, comfortable ship, with lots of stuff to do to keep her running, and some pretty cool options for entertainment and R&R when we’re off duty. We’re less than two light years away from our destination now, which means the Fowl Play has already flipped and is engaged in a prolonged deceleration burn. We have to do that, see, so we don’t sail right on past Epsilon Eridani!
“Where did you hear about the thing with the monsters? It’s not true, okay? I don’t know what anyone told you, probably that jealous jerk Commander Calvin, but I totally did not run screaming from a monster during the expedition to Luyten 726-8, okay? That’s fake news!
“What happened was, I saw the monster and issued a blood-curdling battle cry, but then I hit the wrong button on my Planetary CatRover, which caused it to spin around and run in the other direction. I was trying to inspire my team, not abandon them. I would have turned around and battled the monster too, except by the time I realized my mistake I was already more than half way back to the lander and the others had scared the monster away with their laser pointers.”
That’s my rover on the left, and the Scary Monster on the right. As you can see, I’m very brave for facing the Scary Monster:
Buddy’s Planetary Rover
The Evil Monster, whom Buddy was totally not scared of.
Five-month-old Pepper asks: “Star Commander Buddy, do you think smart aliens are out there? What do they look like? Will they be nice when you meet them?”
“Hi, Pepper! Those are good questions. Well we should remember that we cats are not only a super intelligent species, but we are intimidating too! We have sharp teeth and claws, some of us can roar, and we look really strong and tough! So maybe the aliens will be scared of us!
“I think there will be smart aliens even though we haven’t found other intelligent life on Earth. I mean, there’s humans, but they’re simple-minded creatures, aren’t they? That’s why they’re our servants! LOL! Maybe the aliens will only have fur on their heads like humans. Maybe they’ll look like dogs. Gross, I know! Or maybe they’ll look like a cross between elephants, manta rays and aardvarks.
“We just don’t know, which is why we’re trying to find out. Picture it: Star Commander Buddy, fearlessly leading the first expedition to make contact with smart aliens. It’ll be pretty cool to be in the history books. Tell ya what, Pepper. If we find smart aliens, you and the rest of Mrs. Meowmore’s class will be the first to know. After NASA, of course. We’ll send you pictures. Deal?”
All that awaits is a stroke of President Joe Biden’s pen.
The Big Cat Safety Act was passed by the US Senate this week, clearing its last legislative hurdle. The law would ban the “ownership” of big cats as pets and would end their exploitation by roadside zoo operators, while also outlawing big cat breeding by private parties.
It’s a bipartisan effort that gained steam after years of efforts by animal rights organizations and documentaries like Netflix’s infamous Tiger King, which showed millions of viewers how the majestic felids are kept in cruel conditions and chained to an endless breeding treadmill to provide a constant supply of cubs. Those cubs are taken away from their mothers shortly after birth and used as props in lucrative “selfie with a tiger” offerings at unaccredited roadside zoos.
Private “ownership” of big cats has been a contentious issue and an embarrassment for American animal rights activists, particularly because almost all big cat species are critically endangered. There are more tigers living in backyards in Texas and Florida, for example, than there are living in the wild in the entire world.
Breeding for conservation is a process that involves careful planning by experts at accredited zoos and sanctuaries. Because there are so few big cats left, with some subspecies down to just a few hundred living animals, mates must be carefully chosen to avoid genetic bottlenecks and to ensure healthy and viable breeding populations in the future. As private breeders and roadside zoos breed the animals without regard to subspecies or genetic diversity, they do not contribute to species conservation in any meaningful way and can do harm with indiscriminate matches, conservationists say.
While the bill outlaws private ownership, it still allows sanctuaries, zoos and universities to keep big cats in regulated facilities that meet their physical and psychological needs. It also permits programs like the statewide puma project in California, which has been tracking the elusive felines for more than two decades and involves occasional sedation and temporary custody so the team can provide veterinary care.
“An extraordinarily cruel era for big cats in the U.S. finally comes to an end with the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act,” said Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States. “We’ve been fighting for this moment for years because so many so-called ‘Tiger Kings’ have been breeding tigers and other big cats to use them for profit. And once the cubs grow too large for cub-petting or selfies, these poor animals get dumped at roadside zoos or passed into the pet trade, which is not only a terrible wrong for the animals, but also a threat to public safety. Now that the Big Cat Public Safety Act will become law, it’s the beginning of the end of the big cat crisis in the U.S.”
The Big Cat Safety Act cleared congress in mid summer, and its passage in the senate means it will get to Biden’s desk with several weeks to go in the current legislative session. Biden is expected to sign it without delay.
“For me, this fight for the big cats was never personal,” said Carole Baskin of Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue. “This was always about developing a national policy to shut down the trade in these animals as props in commercial cub handling operations and as pets in people’s backyards and basements.”
The new law does nothing for big cats currently in captivity, unfortunately. Current “owners” will be grandfathered in, although they won’t be able to replace their “pets” legally, as breeding and purchasing the animals will be illegal. The last “pet” members of the panthera genus in the US will die out within the next two or three decades, assuming no major outliers in lifespan.
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.