Monday, 4 March 2013

A Hong Kong Tiger. A Reminder of What Has Been Lost

Searching for something else, I came across this account of a tiger in the New Territories of Hong Kong in 1934-1935.

I first became aware of tigers in Hong Kong after arriving in the Zoology Department of the University of Hong Kong in 1965 when it was housed in the now-demolished Northcote Science Building on Pokfulam Road. There was a photograph on the wall of the main laboratory/museum showing a tiger killed in the New Territories in 1915

I had also seen Herklots’s summary of sightings and killings of tigers in Hong Kong in his book, The Hong Kong Countryside (South China Morning Post, Hong Hong, 1951) and, like him, had been puzzled why such sightings were met by disbelief in the light of very clear evidence. Hong Kong is, after all, within the range of the tiger and, even until recently, the New Territories was sparsely populated. Moreover, there was no enormous fence separating Hong Kong from the ‘mainland’. And the vast city of Shenzen just over the border wasn’t even a twinkle in a planner’s eye.

This is the article from Hong Kong Naturalist, 1934, 5, 322-323.


On the 2nd of November 1934, one Kwai Hing from the village of Lo Wai, Tsun Wan, came to the writer and told him that a “tiger” had appeared at the village the previous night and carried off a pig of approximately 60 catties. The next day the fore foot of the victim was found under a bush,—the tiger having devoured almost the whole animal at one sitting. We were at first sceptical and thought it might have been the work of a couple of wolves. 
Approximately a fortnight later the same man came and reported that the tiger had again made its appearance and killed 3 pigs of about 20 catties each. Two were left behind but the third was carried away and eaten. In a conversation with the writer, the officer in charge of Tsun Wan Police Station stated that he saw the carcass of the two dead pigs and the marks of the killer’s fangs. Towards the end of November a large pig belonging to a villager of Tsung-lung disappeared. Next day one of the village dogs was seen carrying the snout of the lost pig but the remaining part of the animal was never discovered. This must have been the work of the same maurauder [sic] as it would require very many dogs to kill and consume a large pig. Besides, a pig when attacked by dogs would squeal and run, or even attack them, before it could be brought down for good,—which is an almost impossible job for village curs when we consider the size of the victim. 
After, this, all trace of the killer was lost. It had not even left the marks of a single track by which its identity could be determined. We were, however, certain it was either a leopard or a tiger judging from the marks of the teeth on the sides of the two young pigs’ necks.
On Sunday 30th December, 1934 the writer with two Tang cousins from Pat Heung went out shooting Francolins on the hills behind the village of Tai-wo and walked in a south-westerly direction going higher and higher until Tang-Um was reached, when it began to rain rather heavily. At this moment we heard what seemed to be a very distant roar and the two Chinese immediately said it was a tiger but we imagined it to be the sound of a bamboo horn blown by some villager. Within a minute another roar was heard and a Ha-Ka who was felling pine trees drew our attention to a tiger which was about 400 or 500 yards away. The four of us had a clear view of a magnificent animal as it walked quite unconcernedly into the heavily wooded hillside directly on the northern side of Pak-siak-kiew. This place is approximately 3 miles from Lo Wai, Tsun Wan, as the crow flies. It was impossible for us to shoot him-as we only had a light shot-gun. 
On the morning of New Year's Eve the same Chinese who first brought news of the beast came and said that the tiger had again appeared at Lo Wai the previous Saturday—i.e. December 29th, 1934,—exactly one day before the writer and the 3 Chinese saw him near Pak-siak-kiew. This time he took no pig from the village but chased a deer from the hill just behind it. The poor creature was so scared and puzzled that in actually ran through the village, bounded across the vegetable patches for which Tsun Wan is so well known, and continuing downwards got stuck in the marshy pig-weed pond just opposite the Catholic Mission and not more than 30 yards from the main road. Here it was easily caught by a Chinese. The tiger, however, was wise enough not to continue in its chase through almost half a mile of scattered houses and vegetable patches but it had the courage to run right through a narrow village alley which is at right angles to the foot of the hill. On coming to the cemented and cobbled rectangle in front of the houses it jumped across a low wall down into an enclosed vegetable patch where it roamed for some time trampling on the young vegetables. Here the writer saw numerous tracks which measured 7½ inches across both ways excluding ⅛” on each side to make allowance for the crumbling of the earth around the sides. lt must have gone back the way it came for though the earth is soft all around no tracks, except those already mentioned, were seen. 
Thinking it might be somewhere around we scoured the surrounding hills for half a day and sat up all night waiting for it but without any result. 
At present all trace of the animal is again lost but we feel sure it will soon reappear to claim another victim. This tiger is no man-eater or it would long ago have carried off one of the numerous women who spend their whole day up the hills cutting grass for fuel. Judging from what we have seen this tiger must be around two hundred pounds in weight. We have seen three tigers in their wild state in Malaya and participated in trapping a tigress which weighed nearly two piculs and this Tsun Wan beast seems to be slightly smaller. 
Then a follow-up (Hong Kong Naturalist, 1935, 6, 81-82)

The next time the writer heard of the tiger was when walking across the Tsun Wan range into Pat Heung by way of Tsung Lung. 
An old woman grass-cutter of the last named village out cutting grass encountered he beast approximately a mile fro her home. The Creature walked up to her and started to circle round the terror-stricken woman but when it approached too close she mustered sufficient courage to give it a few blows with the grass-cutter’s pole she carried and this had the effect of scaring away the animal. Through the kindness of a missionary friend the writer was able to meet the above mentioned woman who, when interviewed was still in hysterics, brought about by her terrible encounter.
On the 28th of January this year the tiger again descended to its favourite place,—Lo Wai, Tsun Wan,—but this time it failed to secure anything. That was the last we heard of the animal. 
This sketch by A.M. Hughes depicting Perreira’s account of the grass-cutter’s encounter is from The Hong Kong Countryside:

So where were these sightings? I have not been able to trace the smaller villages named by Pereira. However, the main ones are still there but no longer small. I have put pins in this modern Google satellite view to show Lo Wai and Pat Heung:

So, if you are on the Airport Express from the airport at Chek Lap Kok to Hong Kong or Kowloon, look out left as Tsing Yi Station is announced. Those hills were once roamed by tigers. Sadly, any chance that they will ever do so again appear to be zero.