« AnteriorContinua »
The term “forest’ has always had for me a strange fascination. Dr. Johnson defines a forest as 'a wild, uncultivated tract of ground interspersed with trees.' Italians still call strangers generally forestieri, conveying the idea that all outside the pale of civilization is forest. The Great Hercynian Forest, covering half of Northern Europe, was to the Romans an unknown region of monstrous import. Travellers in Central Africa have scarcely yet penetrated the great Forest, where strange types of men and apes of terrible proportions have been seen by a few. The human race seems actually to have sprung into existence as a forest animal, and the earliest instincts of mankind are now represented by the almost universal love of the chase. Romantic tales like that of Robin Hood and his Foresters bold are still cherished in most civilized countries. In England men still cling to the traditions of foresters, and in Germany they reverence “the gray and the green.' In India the term 'jungle' has a similarly wide and uncertain meaning, not necessarily implying trees any more than the Scotch ' deer forest,' but signifying a region where savage animals dwell, and where wild men exist. I have been asked a hundred times what a Forest Officer in India does when engaged in his forest duties. People generally seem to look on the forests there very much as the Italians must have done-as unknown to civilized mankind.
In commencing to write the following recollections of years spent mostly in the Forests of Upper India, principally in the Himalayas and North-West and Central Provinces, my object will be to record such incidents as may elucidate the conditions of life in the forests, and to treat of the wild animals and men met with and their habits, and also casually of the trees and plants that grow naturally there. I do not pretend to any scientific knowledge of these things, but, being a lover of Nature in all its aspects, I would try and record the results of constant observation made from time to time in the various regions visited, which were to myself highly interesting and instructive, and which I would endeavour to put into intelligible form.
Man was originally a hunting animal, and the instinct certainly is not eradicated among Englishmen yet, though there are some who have not a soul for sport. But to many men, and women too, of our country, the wild life in the forest comes quite natural and has a perfect fascination. To kill something is said by foreigners to be the daily desire of every Saxon. This is often too true ; and that the big game of the world is rapidly and surely becoming extinct is probably due to the persistent energy of the Anglo-Saxon character in acting up to its proclivities. I would not write to assist such exterminators and pothunters, whose selfishness and cruelty cannot be sufficiently reprobated. It is, alas ! too true that as no one will burn an ounce less coal in England because the next generation will surely run short, so the wild animals which a few years back abounded in the vast forests of Africa and Western America are now within measurable distance of becoming extinct, the present generation caring nothing for the next.
But it is not so in India. Nature has there provided
a safeguard against the entire spoiling of its beautiful and vast forests. During the six months of the rainy season the growth is so luxuriant, and the jungles so impenetrable and unhealthy, that the wild animals have immunity from the persecution of their great enemy, the Saxon man. The natives as a rule do not take animal life; and the paternal rule of the British Government, though it offers a reward for the destruction of snakes and animals dangerous to life, does not encourage the wholesale slaughter of the harmless creatures which the forest produces and nourishes. India will, I hope, long remain a paradise for the true sportsman, as its forests cannot become denuded of all life and so deprived of half their beauty and interest. In establishing a Forest Department and protecting the timber from destruction, the Government has also extended its protecting arm over the game, so that it shall not be exterminated in a ruthless and wasteful manner. Nevertheless, game is getting scarcer than it was. I was fortunate in being in the country at a time—shortly after the Mutiny–when game of all kinds was very plentiful, and when in most places it was easy to keep the larder and camp supplied with good venison or winged game; but to kill females, or slaughter poor innocent creatures simply to make a bag, was not thought of. I have read books on hunting big game, where the writers unblushingly describe their exploits in shooting down multitudes of innocent animals apparently for no object whatsoever. Nor do they even omit to count up the wounded ones. Such descriptions make one sick, and little the wiser as to the nature of the country or the habits of the animals. I shall not endeavour to imitate these wrongly styled sportsmen. My object was to obtain the best specimen of any particular kind of game, and to become acquainted with its conditions of life from actual experience, and I found this a most interesting pursuit. I would desire to record things that I have seen and incidents, sometimes exciting enough, which come in the ordinary course of a day's work in the forest.
Lastly, I would try and justify the title of these pages by giving to the inquirer about forests some information as to the objects and methods of modern forestry, about which ideas are rather vague. Some imagine that forestry is the science of planting trees in ornamental plantations and lawns, on which subjects whole books have been written, with full instructions for each time of year, under the title of 'Forestry. Some imagine that it has something to do with French or German, and that to understand about trees one must think in one or both of these languages. I quite agree that those nations are far ahead of England in the science of forestry; and having spent some time in Germany studying their system of management, I consider there is no better school or system ; but when the writer commenced the survey of forests in India it was far more useful to be able to swear roundly in Hindustani, without striking or losing one's temper, than to talk French. Some, again, imagine that cutting timber is the principal work of a forester, and that a good axe is the most essential implement. In the Indian forests I have always found a good rifle and a kukri* the most useful weapons ; while to be able to ride all day on an elephant without feeling the sun, and to camp out in all seasons of intense heat on the plains and of intense cold on the highest hills in the world, without taking fever, and to be always ready for a long march on foot, horse, or elephant, and for a good venison steak at the end of it, were the most approved capabilities of a Forest Officer. The Forest Department was started, shortly before the
* Gurkha hunting-knife.
writer entered it, because Government became aware that the magnificent forests of India and Burma were being worked by private enterprise in a reckless and wasteful manner, and were likely to become exhausted if supervision were not exercised. In a country possessing thousands of square miles* of timber-growing jungle, it was found that timber for sleepers had to be imported from Norway for railway construction. The European pine wood, even when creosoted, did not remain sound for long in the climate of India, where the great alternations of extreme drought and damp heat affect timber rapidly and cause it soon to decay. The hard and heavy native timbers, such as teak and sal, are more suitable for withstanding the climate than any European wood. It became absolutely necessary to grow a constant supply of native timber, and for that purpose the existing forests were given into the charge of the new Forest Department under the supervision of skilled officers. Government availed itself of the services of what it could obtain most suitable, and selected a well-known specialist, Dr. Brandis,f who was experienced in the German system of forest management, as Inspector-General of Forests. There were, beside the known teak and sal forests, great areas of waste land under jungle of sorts, almost unexplored. In order to bring these under supervision and ascertain what was worth protecting, Forest Surveyors were appointed. The writer and two assistants were selected for that post in the North-West Provinces by the Lieutenant-Governor.
Prior to this my work had been, though not actually in the Forest Department, still very much in the forest. I was employed in engineering and constructing a road
* In India and Burma 80,000,000 acres. † Now Sir Dietrich Brandis.