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Leopard tales from the past:

The man-eater of Punanai

Continued from last week

A shortened account of the story of the famous man-eating leopard of Punanai written, in Loris, by the person who ultimately shot the animal - Roper S. Agar.

On May 22,1924, at 12 noon I received the following telegram from the Government Agent, Eastern Province. "Reward Rs 100/- offered destruction man-eating leopard Punanai 10 miles from Valachenai Ferry.


A leopard never loses its fear of man

"This was quite new to me. A man-eating leopard." A man-eater that lies in wait for people passing along a frequented road and pounces upon them and carries them off into the jungle, so that there is no one to tell the tale of what actually happened, is something quite unique as far as I am concerned.

Local trackers

I decided to set about as soon as possible and wired the G.A. "Starting immediately arrange local trackers to meet me and guide me to the place." I had everything ready by 11.30 p.m. I started off. The journey of 175 miles was an uneventful one. I decided on the following methods of attack upon the "man-eater": (1) to patrol the road frequented by him night and day; (2) Try baiting with goats and dogs; (3) Hunting with dogs if I could get the local hunters to bring their dogs and lastly (4) To see if I could get a trap which would only be successful if "the bait" inside was human.

[Agar arrived in Punanai on the 23rd around 11.30 am]

I examined the scene of his last kill carefully and came to the conclusion that a terrific fight for life must have taken place here. The head cloth was not torn to pieces. There were long tears here and there, and at other places indications of claws having been drawn in and out of the cloth, and, of course, the flesh too. The large pool of blood by the roadside indicated that the leopard must have left the man there for some time before dragging him away. My information is that ten people have been taken [by this leopard] and others are missing. The "man-eater" has been acting in the most bold and astonishing manner, attacking even gangs of three or four people and carts. The beast never appears on the road, but stalks them through the jungle and at a suitable opportunity springs out upon one of the unfortunate stragglers.

[Agar went looking for local guides whom he knew]

I returned to Punanai at about 6 p.m. and then lit up for the "night patrol".

In addition to my electric head light, I had two acetylene lights and these were backed up by a powerful "spot light" and I pushed off slowly in a blaze upon the "night patrol." I travelled up and down the known haunts until 11.30 p.m. paying special attention to the place of the last kill, but saw no signs of anything. This was rather to be expected, as his last victim was three days old, and I reckoned a man might last that time.

At 2.30 am Saturday morning, 24th, I roused my people for the early morning patrol ....continued the patrol to Punanai but saw nothing else and no signs or tracks of the "man-eater."

Early next morning we were at the place of the last kill and I set my men to follow up slowly and cut a track, as, in the event of the unforeseen happening, I intended to have a clear space, at any rate, for "free movement".

The trail of the dragged man was easy to follow, but the going was very slow and cutting the track difficult in that close cheddy.

The first thing found was a matchbox containing a 25-cent piece, some tobacco and chunam; then the waist cloth and waist cord; then the scalp with hair, and next, the smell indicated that the rest was not far off. Looking about I saw the body- a terrible spectacle! Head entirely gone, and the only parts not eaten were the shoulders, arms, hands, thighs legs and feet.

Indications showed that in the fight the man was done down badly; his arms and legs were terribly mauled and scratched.

The leopard had not been there for several days; apparently he had abandoned it. This concludes the tale for the present, as there is nothing more to be done here.

On Saturday 16th August 1924, I received the following telegram from the G.A. Batticaloa: "Elephant not destroyed can you come tomorrow".

On arrival at Batticaloa, I went to the 'Residency' to inform the G.A about the Rugam rogue [elephant] and he immediately informed that he had sent me a wire, which I had missed, informing me of the latest attack by the man-eater. He told me the railway tappal runner from Punanai to Kalkudah had been attacked and carried off on the dangerous road near the fatal 28th mile post. He wanted me to set off at once and try to get the beast on the kill if possible, and this I was most eager to do. The details of the latest tragedy were these: On Saturday, the 16th instant, the Railway Inspector was out with his men working on the road close to the 28th mile post. The tappal runner was supposed to have gone by at 11 to 11.30 a.m. He was warned to arm himself. He replied as there were people working on the road, he was not afraid and felt safe and went off with out a knife or club.

The Railway Inspector at noon returning to Punanai for his mid-day meal, noticed near the 28th mile post the tappal bag lying in the side of the road, and a small piece of cloth hanging to the scrub.

He immediately concluded that the man had been attacked by the leopard. He picked up the tappal bag, went back ... and informed his superiors about the matter. They in turn wired the news to the G.A. Batticaloa.

We arrived at the 28th mile post about 3 p.m. and saw at once that this attack had taken place only a few yards away from the previous kill, which I followed up at the end of May.

Small hole

A small hole in the cheddy showed where the man had been dragged away.

[Following the marks left where the leopard had dragged the corpse, Agar came upon the present kill.]

The corpse was in much the same condition as the previous one. A good deal more of him had been eaten. The leopard was evidently hungry. The man was killed by a terrible bite at the base of the skull and neck, and the head was twisted round. There were no scratches or bites as far as I could see.

All the insides and a good part of the left leg had been eaten. The face, arms and right leg had not been touched. The body was fairly fresh. I felt certain we had disturbed the leopard at his feed and that he was lurking near by.

I set my men to prepare a machan in a suitable tree. This took much longer that I expected and it was just after 6 p.m. when the thing was completed. Our only chance was to hurry back to the car, collect our things and our electric night torches and return quickly.

We had gone about 40 yards away from the kill and were just getting round a bend in the track when my driver who was behind said, "Leopard Sir." I swung round instantly and got a glimpse of yellow by the kill which was hidden by some cheddy obscuring the view in that light. I fired immediately at the patch of yellow and I believed at the time I had scored a hit.

The leopard sprang forward and fell back. Something interfered with my driver getting up his rifle and his shot went wide, and my second shot missed. It all happened in a flash. This daring beast had been watching us the whole afternoon, and now had come to take away the kill he thought we had left. The return was no easy matter. However, we got there eventually to find the corpse gone! What sort of a beast was this? In spite of a bombardment, in spite of a probable injury, he persistently returned. As there was nothing better to do, we patrolled in the car to Vakanerie, turned and went back to Punanai. By 6 a.m. we were off on another hunt to try and find the corpse.

Then we started following up the trail of the dragged corpse; it was quite clear, and shortly afterwards we found the head stripped of all flesh; only the bare skull remained. I knew the leopard must be somewhere in the thicket. The excitement was now intense.

Going away

We started looking round. Suddenly we saw the corpse. I vowed that I would not let that body out of my sight again day or night, until the end came one way or the other.

I was going to have a machan made according to my own ideas. This was completed by 10 a.m.

I ordered my men to go away and talk loudly as they went to make it appear as if we were all going away, and as soon as they got out of sight they were to climb trees and wait for the signal to return.

My driver and I crept quietly into the machan and lay doggo with rifles ready, awaiting the leopard. I had everything I wanted , and my driver and I settled down to watch through the rest of the day, and perhaps the night too.

I told my driver to lie down and guard the right flank, and shoot on sight if the leopard came that way. I was to watch the front, the corpse, and the thicket ahead and also the left flank and behind; so I took a general look-round every little while. It was about 3 p.m. after a heavy shower, that the leopard came out.

Glancing casually over my left shoulder, my gaze became riveted on a white object a few yards away. It was the stomach of the leopard. He had crept up silently from behind. He looked just like some beautiful white devil as he sat there on his haunches, as one often sees a cat when washing its face. There he was the dreaded man-eater, "licking" his chops, looking at his kill a few yards away, and looking at me.

I dared not move or take my eyes off him to give my driver the tip that the leopard had come. My 4790 was ready on my lap, the safety catch slipped up. I knew at that range I could place the bullet where I liked, and I chose the neck shot, as I knew at that angle the explosive bullet would rake the creature's vital organs. At the shot the leopard rolled over-stone-dead-never to do any more dirty work.

This has taken some time to put on paper, but the climax was just the matter of a second. At the sound of the shot, all my people and others who had collected round my car to wait for the result came running back. I found my first shot of the night before had grazed the abdomen of the beast, without doing serious harm. I soon had a pole cut, to carry the creature away. I wished to get out of the cursed place with its ugly sights as soon as possible. Corpse smells were suffocating me. I wanted some vast, wonderful, sweet-smelling perfume to come all over me!

The man-eater was not a very large leopard. His short stumpy tail took away from his measurements.

He stood high off the ground, was in fine condition, and showed abnormal development for its size in respect of pads, neck muscles and head.

The canine teeth were very long. He had a great number of knife wounds, old and new, showing that some of his victims had fought for their lives. As to how the leopard became a man-eater I cannot venture an opinion. Perhaps he accidentally killed a man in a state of alarm or began with a small child. I heard that his first victim was a young Moor boy, and that may possibly have been the beginning of his notorious career.

General

W.W.A Phillips, writing in Loris Volume VI Number, 1 states that - The leopard, like the tiger, always has small floating bones in the fleshy part of the shoulders, and these are considered to be lucky bones and are often mounted in gold as brooches.

Jim Corbett in his book Man-eaters of Kumaon states that - When a tiger becomes a man-eater it loses all fear of human beings.

A leopard on the other hand, even after it has killed scores of human beings, never loses its fear of man; and as it is unwilling to face up to human beings in the daylight, it secures its victims when they are moving about at night, or by breaking into their houses at night. (JC is referring to the man-eating leopards of India).

Concluded

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