Hunting with Native Dogs in India (A Note from the Past)

A Note in the Bombay Natural History Society Journal Vol. 14, 1903, by Lieut. General W. Osborn, Indian Staff Corps, dated June 30th, 1901. (Notes in italics are explanations added by Gautam Das, New Delhi, India, 2nd June 2002)

“I wish to say a word or two on behalf of the common dog of the country, the unjustly despised Pariah. I don’t mean the Mongrel, that one sees about Indian towns and cantonments (military bases, or permanent military camps), but the true Indian Pariah Dog, mostly red in colour.

That we have neglected this animal as a faithful companion, good watchdog, and excellent assistant in many field sports there is no doubt, though it is not strange that we should have done so, as sportsmen are a conservative body, many of whom consider that there is nothing good in the sporting line outside of England. But of the good qualities of the true Pariah, as I have to call him, I have seen many instances. Notably when passing the hot weather months on the Ramandroog hills, not quite forty miles from Bellary, I found there were sixteen men of a tribe called “Bender” in the village below my camp who used to hunt with their dogs which were of the same class as I have described, the true breed of country dog from which the sheep dogs are taken.

These sixteen men had a pack of eight dogs. Each man was armed with a spear, a small axe, and a knife. In addition to these, he carried a flint and steel, and tinder in his pouch. I am writing of a time years ago, when there was a fair head of game on the small range of hills, consisting of tigers, panthers and leopards, many sambhurs (large deer, ‘Cervus unicolor’, related to and like the North American elk), pigs, etc. These “Benders” used to turn out for a hunt regularly twice a week, their game being always sambhur, and in those times it was not long before the pack of eight were in full chase of the stag or hind. I never saw these lose a sambhur once. When they found they stuck promptly to their quarry, and the end was always the same, stag, or hind, at bay, either against a rock, or in a pool of water, the pack laying around, and the sambhur slain at last by the spear of the “Benders” exactly, from start to finish, as it is described by Sir Samuel Baker in his description of sambhur hunting with hounds in his book “The Rifle and Hounds in Ceylon”.

I am not writing a sporting article but I am endeavoring to show the good qualities of the Indian dog. Sometimes these same “Benders” used to hunt hare in the grassy plains below the hills. Assisted by their eight dogs (all red ones) and armed with their throwing sticks, a curved hardwood stick with a knob at one end shaped something like a boomerang, I have seen them bring home fifteen to twenty hares, not one of which they could have secured without their dogs.

Once I was after a man-eating tigress, two “Benders” and one of their dogs was with me. I wounded the tigress which took refuge in a deep rocky glen, thickly covered in with a species of climbing, thorny mimosa. Entrance through this network of hooked thorns was impossible to a man, but the dog, a red pariah, was able to crawl in and found the tigress, and bayed her constantly for half an hour. When the dog got too close, the tigress would execute a charge with the usual music, but could not get home, as her back was injured. However, the dog stuck at his work, and I was able to mark the spot where the tigress lay by moving the bushes, and meeting each charge with a couple of barrels, at hazard, a lucky shot at last finished the business, and I bagged the tigress which I certainly should have lost but for the dog.

These dogs are trained by native shikaries (hunters, or sportsmen) to other kinds of sport. Once when duck shooting in Mysore country, I was seated on a hillock watching a flight of ducks on a sheet of water, when I saw a performance that surprised me. In a hole dug in the ground about twenty yards from the brink of the water was seated a shikari, well concealed from the birds. He had with him his old gun and red Pariah dog. His object was to attract the birds to within shooting distance. To accomplish this, every now and then, at fairly regulated intervals, he threw a lump of a thick kind of chuppatie (unleavened bread) they eat in these parts, down to the margin of the water. The red dog would then jump out of the hole, run to the chuppatie, eat it, and return at once to his master. This was repeated until the attention of the ducks was attracted and it was continued, the flock swam gently on in the direction of the dog in that curious manner in which many birds will follow, and mob their natural enemy. At length coming well within range, bang went the old musket, and the shikari emerged from his pit to gather in the slain.

The interesting point here, apart from the performance of the dog, is the well known habit of the wild birds following their natural foes. In this instance the ducks evidently mistook the red dog for their enemy the fox or jackal. In English decoys this habit has been taken advantage of. The decoy man trains a small red dog to show himself at different points to the ducks on the water. These invariably follow the dog slowly till he leads them into the mouth of the decoy net, and onwards, till the birds enter the fatal chamber from which there is no escape. Here we an Indian shikari following a practice that has been for ages in use in England. Did we learn this trick from the East? The Indian fowlers could hardly have got it from us.”