Would you believe that a tiger was killed by the villagers of Thovalai? Or with grave risk to his life, a shepherd from Thazhakudy saved a bull from the clutches of a leopard? The first story was narrated to me by the elders in the village. In the second story, I saw the victim bull myself with so many stitch marks on it. At that time I was a boy and the leopard attack had taken place some years before. Where have the animals gone? They have disappeared along with the forest. During my boyhood, I had listened to the coffee shop stories of the adventures of the shepherds – how they had saved their charge from the wild animals, what they survived on when they were tending the herd (No cowherd carries lunch-box. He has to satisfy his hunger by the edible fruits and roots available in the forest). They had also an uncanny knowledge of the wild animals, their ways of hunting, and most of all, how one can escape from a wild animal.
Many people do not differentiate between a tiger and a leopard. But the shepherds in our village gave me a clear description of both. Some used the Malayalam name ‘Kaduvai’ for tiger. The correct Tamil name is ‘Vengai’. The spotted one is generally called ‘puli’ by most people. Some call it ‘chiruthai’ meaning cheetah. But the last cheetah was seen in India some time in 1920. Now they are seen in free state only in Africa.
I developed a great interest in flora and fauna because of the stories I heard in the coffee shops. Later, after arriving at Madras, I read many books by Jim Corbett. Why do people confuse between tiger and leopard? Because tigers arrived in India only about six thousand or seven thousand years ago. That is why you cannot see a tiger in free state in Sri Lanka. Because of the tigers, lions, which roamed about freely in Indian forests were confined to the Gir forest in Gujarat. Tigers are not seen in Africa.
Very long ago, I am told, the Thadagai hills were full of vegetation. But continued exploitation has left it barren like a bald head. The early cultivators in the foothills of the Thadagai had to put up with the destruction of the crop by sambar deer. I had seen a sambar deer captured by the farmers near Avvayar Amman Koil, (a temple dedicated to the Tamil poetess Avvayar, perhaps the only one of its kind in Tamilnadu) in the foothills of the Thadagai hills. People who visit Kanyakumari district should not confine their trip to Kanyakumari alone. There are more interesting places in the north of the district.
Tiger Leopard Cheetah