Nonfiction from NER 36.3
In 1875 the Indian tiger (Panthera tigris) was rechristened the Royal Bengal Tiger—first by the Calcutta press and then by the rest of the world—in honor of the enthusiasm shown by the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, in hunting it during his eight-month tour of India. If naturalists seek a single event that doomed the fate of this species they could point to Edward’s expeditions. Of course, Edward alone cannot be blamed. Tiger hunting had always been a colonial favorite, and the Victorians (who devoured publications like The Oriental Shooting Magazine, The Bengal Sporting Magazine, and The Indian Sporting Review at clubs around India) had turned it into a rite of passage. Like any good politician or celebrity, Edward was merely stamping with approval a widely enjoyed sport. After Edward’s trip, however, a regrettable fashion took hold. While the Indian tiger had merely been hunted, the Royal Bengal Tiger was massacred.
Perhaps the recent widespread availability of George Eastman’s cumbersome but portable camera also had something to do with it. Suddenly, all around the subcontinent, Victorians were eager to be photographed with their feet proudly planted on “Stripes.” What is sport without measurements and records? Rowland Ward’s The Sportsman’s Handbook to Practical Collecting, Preserving, and Artistic Setting-up of Trophies and Specimens (first published in 1880 with new editions almost every year through the end of the century) carried instructions on how to arrange the tiger’s carcass for measurement. The dead beast was to be tugged (at the nose and tail) to a straight line before fixing the four pegs: the tip and root of the tail, the nape of the neck and the nose.
Mukund Belliappa grew up in various parts of India and has lived in the US since attending graduate school at UT Austin, where he studied engineering, mathematics, and creative writing. Belliappa’s essays have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Antioch Review, and Rain Taxi. A sizeable portion of his reading and writing over the past decade has been in colonial history. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and two Malinois.