Friday, November 02, 2007

Terror Week presents: Eaters of Man!

Terror Week lingers on after Halloween, like a fart at a Saturday night poker game. You just can't get rid of it, no matter how many windows you open. Such is the power of Terror Week here at Dave's Long Box.

Utter, bladder-voiding, sanity-shattering terror is part of the human condition, but such is the nature of civilized Western life that few of us are confronted with true terror on a daily basis - unless one happens to be an avid viewer of Nancy Grace on CNN. Those reading this blog were undoubtedly born in the 20th Century, the most violent 100 years of human existence, yet for those like myself fortunate enough to live in modern society, we have lived lives untouched by the specter of daily violence.

I am, of course, speaking in extremely general terms, but the sad fact is that the daily burden of fear on this planet is usually born by those in developing nations who live in poverty. These are the folks who have to stress about the air, food, and water they ingest killing them, or their children dying of preventable diseases, or about falling prey to criminals or soldiers or mines or unexploded bombs...

...or yes, getting eaten alive.

Previously I advanced my completely unproven and unsupported theory that all human terror stems from a biologically hardwired fear of saber tooth tigers. I stand by my hypothesis and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong (knowing that I will just delete any comments that contradict said theory because I am a dick). That's because for hundreds of thousands of years, animals have been stalking, killing, and eating humans. Even today man is on the menu with alarming frequency in poor rural areas on Earth.

Let's take crocodiles. There are two species of crocodile that regularly chow down on homo sapiens: Africa's Nile crocodile and the Asian saltwater crocodile. According to the Wikipedia entry (grain o' salt alert!), "The saltwater crocodile is one of the major animals involved in attacks on humans in Southeast Asia and Australia and is responsible for about 300 deaths annually." It is estimated that the Nile croc kills a couple hundred Africans and tourists each year. These numbers are wild approximations because of the lack of infrastructure and local government in many croc-heavy regions, to say nothing of civil war. But let's presume that at least 500 people get the chop every year from crocodiles.*

Chew on that for a minute.

Odds are pretty damn good that as you are reading this, some poor bastard is being digested inside a crocodile's belly or some unsuspecting person is walking too close to the edge of a river right now, unaware that death lurks unseen in the murky water mere yards away...

Crocodiles are opportunistic ambush predators, bursting from hiding when some animal enters their Kill Zone - anywhere near water. Again, Wikipedia: "As an ambush predator, it usually waits for its prey to get close to the water's edge before striking without warning and using its great strength to drag the animal back into the water. Most prey animals are killed by the huge jaw pressure of the crocodile, although some animals may be incidentally drowned."


The most famous and prolific Nile crocodile is Gustave, a monstrous 20+ foot beast that prowled Burundi's Rusizi River and Lake Tanganika. While Burundi's warlords have killed far more of their own people than Gustave could ever dream of, the jumbo croc is blamed for over 300 deaths over the years. This may be an exaggeration, but it's certainly possible. Gustave is so famous they even made a movie about him, Primeval, which I haven't actually seen.

The locals mistakenly believed Gustave had died of old age or finally got killed, as a confirmed sighting of the man-eater hadn't been reported in years. Likely the only ones who sighted Gustave didn't live to spread the news, because in April 2007 a huge croc with Gustave's trademark bullet-scarred noggin attacked some fishermen, eating one of them. It seems that Gustave is back and in full effect.

A 300 victim tally is impressive for any species, but pales in comparison to India's Panar leopard, which killed over 400 people around the turn of the century. Or how about the Champawat Tigress, the champion of all man-eaters with a documented 436 kills in Nepal and India's Kumoan region in the 19th century? Any way you cut it, that's a shitload of dead bodies. The Champawat Tigress was so feared that the Nepalese Army was assembled to drive it over the border into Kumoan, where it became the Indians' problem. Nice, huh?

Aside from staggering success at killing people, both the Panar Leopard and the Champawat Tigress had one thing in common: they met hot doom from the barrel of legendary hunter Jim Corbett. Nobody on Earth had more experience at tracking and killing man-eating cats as Corbett, a man who by all accounts was exceptionally skilled and possessing of iron nerves, keen eyesight, and a lot of luck. Guy had a face like a mutt, though. I guess God didn't roll triple sixes for every category when he was making this particular Ranger player character.

Corbett's books occupy an honored place in the Dave Campbell Library of Macho, particularly The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, an account of Corbett's repeated attempts to end the career of the most famous man-eating cat in India.

This particular leopard preyed on pilgrims and villagers in a more densely populated area of India and as a result had a much bigger psychological impact than the Panar leopard. The official death count for the Rudraprayag leopard is around 125 victims, but Corbett himself says the cat killed "several hundred" Indians over the course of several years. The leopard was notorious for snatching people out of their homes without a sound and was thought by many locals to be some sort of evil spirit due to its uncanny knack for escape and evasion. It was like a Sith lord and a Predator and a ninja all wrapped up in one lean rosette skinned package.


Leopards, like crocodiles, are opportunistic killers - although humans aren't their natural prey, they're more than willing to sample the local bipeds if the conditions are right. By contrast, tigers and lions usually only turn to man-eating when they can't close the deal with their normal prey due to injury, illness, or infirmity.

Corbett believed that the Rudraprayag leopard probably developed a taste for humans during a period of plague and drought. The local Indians couldn't spare the wood to cremate their dead, so they put burning embers in the mouths of their dead and pitched them off a cliff. The leopard, it is theorized, discovered this stockpile of man flesh and decided that they were good eating. From that point forward, it was ON.

"[Leopards] drive tent-peg size fangs into your neck and rip open your
tender belly with windmilling rear claws while their foreclaws hold you in place
and they call you dirty names in leopardese."


The Rudraprayag leopard still carried on with eating its usual diet of goats and deer and whatnot, but the enterprising cat also killed and ate more than its share of women and children. Unlike crocodiles, whose Kill Zone covers the river/human interface, leopards have an unlimited Kill Zone - they can show up anywhere, and often do. They're practically invisible in the sun-dappled underbrush and are totally silent - until they spring into action. Then you are screwed. They drive tent-peg size fangs into your neck and rip open your tender belly with windmilling rear claws while their foreclaws hold you in place and they call you dirty names in leopardese.

Only two people were attacked by the Rudraprayag leopard and lived to tell about it. Everyone else died. Corbett tried everything to stop it, ranging from bear traps to tripwire shotgun traps to baiting the cat with live animals to lacing dead animals with poison. He was stalked and nearly killed on several occasions by his nemesis, and at one point Corbett had to take a vacation to get his jangled nerves together. All the while, the residents of the Rudraprayag region and the pilgrims who had to pass through lived in abject fear of this unkillable boogeyman.

Corbett ultimately sorted the Rudraprayag man-eater out, and the old cat measured a full seven foot and six inches. It had teeth worn from old age, a mouth blackened from ingesting the poison that could not kill it, and scars from various close calls and battles with other cats. It was an old leopard, but still magnificently powerful - it had taken down adult cows as well as full grown humans.

What about lions? Or tigers? Sharks? Jaguars? Already this post stretches too long to discuss any of these man-eaters at length. Sure, these animals don't hunt and eat humans by default, but each of them has been known to chow down on homo sapiens when the local conditions are right.

Let's just look briefly at lions. The most famous man-eating lions, the Tsavo lions, devoured up to 135 railway workers during the latter part of the 19th century before they were killed by Lt. Colonel JH Patterson. This man-eating team were dubbed The Ghost and The Darkness, and a mediocre film was made about them in 1996. After serving some time as Patterson's floor rugs, the lions are now on display at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. It's speculated that the natural food supply of the Tsavo lions may have dried up and the pair learned to appreciate human flesh by dining on the inadequately buried bodies of railway workers. Through trial and error they taught themselves how to hunt man.

The Tsavo lions were not anomalies, however. A pride of lions in Tanzania taught themselves how fun and easy it was to hunt people. Three generations of lions in the pride developed the skill and aptitude for man-eating, and ultimately the threat to the local populace was ended when the entire pride was wiped out.

Even today lions go after humans in Africa. According to researchers, "Between August 2002 and April 2004 a man-eating lion killed 35 people and injured at least nine in a 350 square kilometres area along the Rufiji River." It appears that Tanzania is still one big Kill Zone under the right circumstances. All it takes is one lion with a tooth ache or a festering thorn or the proper role model and the curtain lifts once again on the ages-old drama of man vs. scary animal.

There are some who may read this and feel uneasy with the idea of man killing animals under any circumstances or feel that the depiction of certain predators as man-eating monsters makes it that much easier to hunt and kill them. Fair enough. I for one think it's incredibly cool that there are still places on the planet where humans are not Lords of the Earth, where if you don't tread carefully you may end up getting eaten.

Of course, that's easy for me to say here in my warm home outside Seattle. I don't have to think twice when I go get food for my family or even step outside for a minute to look at the stars. It's an inescapable fact that for loads of people in the world, man-eating animals aren't some romantic notion but a very real part of their daily lives. Even today.

And that, my friends, is real TERROR! Believe it!





*I totally can't back this number up, it's just a rough estimate. Hey, if you want scientific accuracy you shouldn't be reading a blog.

29 comments:

Flint Paper said...

Airwolf post, Dave. I'm a big fan of man-eaters from way back, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this paean to INSTANT WILDERNESS DEATH ON FEET reminding the readers what the Long Box is all about (manliness and deathings).

(And also sometimes comics, apparently.)

Jon H said...

Note: That is a real human hand in that critter's mouth.

ghostman said...

I bet Jim Corbett's stress level would have been a lot lower if they'd had Claymores back in the day. That wouldn't have left much to stuff or hang on the wall, though.

As if people didn't have enough to worry about from crocodiles and big cats, you've got things like Cape Buffalo and hippopotami to gore or trample your ass. They frequently kill more humans in a year than the predators do.

Here's a little taste of the modern equivalent of that Sheena comic. Yes, it's
Frank Cho's Jungle Girl, jungleriffic Boob War with plenty of completely gratuitous Butt Skirmishes. (The interior art is actually by Adriano Batista--Cho's only doing the covers and the plot, which as you'd expect is pretty forgettable.)

Harpo said...

My favorite have always been Crocodiles because they are so unapologetically man-eaters. People always say (true or not) that lions, tigers, leopards only become man-eaters if they're old or sick or grouchy or whatever. Not crocodiles - they'll eat you just because they might be hungry later. And they'll ignore the plump juicy sleeping gazelle calf right next to you to do it.

lilacsigil said...

I wouldn't dismiss Great White sharks so quickly - evidence in South Australia points to sharks starting to prey-switch to humans.

SallyP said...

To this day, I cannot watch Jaws, because I'm terrified of sharks. I also don't like spiders or big crunchy beetles, but man, sharks are the worst.

Isaac said...

Hey, Dave -- I have to recommend a book for you: David Quammen has an excellent description of current populations of man-eating animals in his book Monster of God. It's well-written, and he spends a good long chapter on those Australian saltwater crocodiles. It's damn good stuff.

David Campbell said...

Thanks Isaac, I will check that out.

I also heartily recommend Jim Corbett's books, particularly The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag and Man-Eaters of Kumaon.

My absolute favorite manly hunter writer is a guy named Peter Hathaway Capstick, who is one of my writing idols. The guy writes hilarious and grisly true stories based on his own experiences as a hunter and game warden, and about other macho chaps like Corbett and Patterson. You will not regret checking out pretty much any of his books, including Death in the Long Grass, Death on the Dark Continent, Death in Silent Places, and Maneaters. I can't recommend him enough.

Hoosier X said...

Monster of God is pretty awesome. I also recommend another of Quammen's books, Song of the Dodo, which is about that ferocious Indian Ocean man-eater, the dodo.

SanctumSanctorumComix said...

AWESOME post Dave.
VERY nice change-up.

And that Nancy Grace pic instilled the appropriate amount of fear in my primal self to trigger my "fight or flight" reflex.
The only thing preventing me from running OR punching my monitor, was that it is a VERY pricey laptop - ON my lap at the time.

THAT SAID...
As you may remember from your RAT posts, I was one who espoused a strict "non-kill" stance on our furry friends.

HOWEVER, the big, HUGE qualifier in this is it's AOK to explodo some fuzzies if they are CHEWING ON YOUR NECK!

WILD animals are NO JOKE.

Heck, just this morning I had to rush to the Emergency room because one of my house-cats took a chunk of my face off when he swiped to grab my glasses from my face.

I now have a nice deep gash on the bridge of my nose that was treated with some skin GLUE (INDERMIL/DERMABOND) in lieu of actual stitches.

And that's just from one claw of a TEN pound cat.
I can't imagine some Sabretooth-type of cat using me as a chew toy.

Of course, I'm not worried about my cat(s) wanting to feat on my flesh (at least not until I die and don't feed them for a few days).
MY cat only wanted my glasses. He's more "junkyard dog" than cat, as he'd love to chew on ANY hunk of metal that he can get his teeth into.

Still... if I had to choose the "LADY" or the TIGER... and NANCY GRACE was the "LADY"... I'd rather be found in the stool of a Tiger's litter box.

Just sayin'.
That woman is scary!

~P~
P-TOR

Hoosier X said...

Is Nancy Grace the really stupid, nasty one? Or am I getting her mixed up with Dr. Laura?

Anonymous said...

Here's a me3 for both _Monsters of God_ and _Song of the Dodo_. Song is more about, you know, science and stuff, but it's still damn interesting.

_Monsters_ is from a conservation POV, but includes plenty of skin-crawling detail about stuff like crocodile attacks (including a detailed account from one of the very few human survivors), rabid grizzly bears (just as bad as it sounds) and just why it's a bad idea, if pursued by a Komodo dragon, to either jump in the water or climb a tree.


Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap! That crocodile has a fucking HAND in it's mouth? What's the story behing that picture, Dave? Must know!!!

J.T.

Thelonious_Nick said...

Familiar with Batman #189? It's Scarecrow's first SA appearance. At that time I guess he hadn't invented any of his fear gases or anything, because his schtick was to put Batman & Robin in terrifying situations. At one point he locked them in a room in the dark and then released a tiger. Awesome.

Matt T. said...

I went to the University of Florida in Gainesville. Our mascot is the Gator, which is apt, because they're all over the goddamn place down. No one got attacked in the seven years I lived there, but a friend of mine's dog got et once. There's also a big-ass lake full of gators right there on campus, and one often sees the big mothers crossing 441 at Paine's Prairie south of town.

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty amazed more drunken college students aren't et by goddamn alligators down there. Sorta shocked I wasn't, to be quite honest, as I passed out in more than one isolated field during my college years.

And hoosier x, Nancy Grace is stupid and nasty, though in a different way than Dr. Laura.

SanctumSanctorumComix said...

After recently watching the STAR TREK episode: CATSPAW (where Kirk and crew are trapped on a phantom planet complete with Sorcerers, dungeon-filled castle & "mumbo-jumbo" as Kirk calls it), the female "Sorcerer" changes shape into a GIANT BLACK CAT to stalk our Enterprise Captain and his crew.

The reason (and the reason for all the Halloween trappings)?

Because these aliens probed the minds of Earth-men (and missing the conscious level of thought) hit upon the SUBCONSCIOUS level of thought and found that in the collective unconsciousness of man is an innate fear of horror-type things - and the GIANT BLACK CAT is a throw-back to man's primordial fear of (as SPOCK rightly attests):

SABRETOOTH TIGERS!

Everything you need to know - EVER - is found in STAR TREK.

~P~
P-TOR

Anonymous said...

> warm home outside Seattle

While they're not known for frequent attacks on people, the wilderness around King County has both bears and cougars.

http://dnr.metrokc.gov/wlr/LANDS/beartips.htm

Anonymous said...

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A_N_Nanda said...

Nice, you loved Corbett's analysis of tigers eating habit. Tigers of Rudraprayag behaving weird had also its reasons. Nice! Had Corbet been alive he would have analyzed the behaviors of the tigers of the Sunderbans. It's said about them: they are so unpredictable that all theorizations about them just fail.

A nice ramble to read here. Thanks.

I've also posted my review of Jim Corbett's "My India" at my blog http://ramblingnanda.blogspot.com .

Nanda
http://remixoforchid.blogspot.com

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