This estimate will no doubt seem to some people, who have not given the subject full consideration, a very low one. Government officers travelling on duty in the forest in the dry weather, and seeing a number of elephants congregated at a tank, are apt to imagine that the surrounding forests are swarming with them ; whereas the truth probably is that the herd seen at the tank is the only one for scores of square miles of waterless country round. Elephants sometimes come, night after night, to some particular drinking-place, and Europeans, seeing this, might easily over-estimate the number in the neighbourhood, not realizing that it is the same herd or family which comes every night. The creatures are so big and so destructive to vegetation in their feeding, that it is easy for anyone coming on their tracks to form erroneous ideas as to their number from the marks they leave.
Considering the immense cover, it is strange that leopards and bears should not be more numerous than they are. The former are more prolific than the latter, but owing to the difficulty they have in finding food and to their hard lives, probably do not increase any faster. Not more than one cub per annum to each she-leopard and she-bear can be reckoned on.
It has been calculated that since the passing of Ordinance No. 6 of 1872, rewards for the destruction of 8,873 leopards have been paid at the different Kachcheries in the Island. (See appendix C.) This does not represent the actual number killed, as, if a skin is worth more than Rs.5, which is very often the case, the owner will prefer to sell it in the bazaar, rather than take it to the Kachcheri for the reward, where it would have to be given up. It is probable that at least half of those shot by natives are thus disposed of. This will give a total of 13,310 leopards or 492 shot annually during 27 years, and if we add eight for animals killed in fighting or by accident, a total of 500 is arrived at.
Assuming that as many leopards die every year as are born, and that each she-leopard brings up only one cub out of two or more born annually, it follows, reasoning as in the ease of deer and elephants, that there must be about 1,660 leopards of all sexes and ages in the Island, or about one for every 7½ square miles of forest.
The number of bears in our forests can only be roughly guessed at. They are seldom shot by natives as the reward is small and their skins are practically worthless. They are only fired at when they come unexpectedly to deer drinking-places. During the last 27 years rewards were paid by Government for the destruction of 2,401 bears, or an average of 89 per annum. Of these more than half were killed on the Northern Province. (See Appendix C.) The food of bears is more easily got than that of leopards, and though the females have usually only one cub at a time, they look after their young more affectionately than she-leopards, and probably fewer die in cub-hood. Bears are no doubt rather more numerous than leopards, but being strictly night-animals, and as they confine themselves to the densest forest, rarely coming near inhabited places, they are not so often seen. An estimate of 2,000 bears of all ages, or one for every six square miles of forest, would perhaps not be very wide of the mark.
Of recent years wild buffalos have greatly decreased in number ; perhaps through murrain. It is probable that there are now not more than a few hundreds in the wild parts of the Eastern and North-Central Provinces and the Province of Uva.
The only absolutely certain way of preventing the extermination of game would be the creation of extensive "sanctuaries," and the multiplication of drinking-places in them. The Forest Department is now busy demarcating large " reserved forests," every river, tank, rock-pool or other drinking-place in which will be known and marked on maps, and will be constantly visited by the patrolling forest-watchers. Any person trespassing within the defined limits for any purpose whatever, without a pass, will be liable to arrest and punishment. These forests will be practically "sanctuaries, " and the deer in them, being unmolested, will rapidly increase. If the Game Protection Society provided funds for the making of fresh drinking places where water was scarce, and fcr clearing round existing water-holes and opening broad paths to them, so as to make it difficult for leopards to lie in wait there, much practical good would be done in the way of protecting deer from their two-legged and four-legged enemies.
It will be some years before these " reserved forests " have been demarcated and proclaimed on a sufficiently large scale, and the writer would suggest that meanwhile the following steps should be taken which he believes, would go a long way towards arresting the destruction of game now going on, though he does not claim that they would entirely prevent it, viz. :-
I. A Game Board to be appointed by Government for each Province, consisting of the Government Agent, the Assistant Conservator of Forests and three unofficial members, two of them Europeans, and the third a leading native, to look after native interests.
The Board to confer on all matters relating to the game laws, registration of guns, sale of hides and horns, etc. The Government Agent to issue licenses, proclaim sanctuaries, sanction prosecutions, fix rates, and give orders generally with the approval of the Board.
II. Licenses to shoot game to be issued only to bona-fidê sportsmen, European or native, shooting strictly for amusement. Such licenses to be paid for at the rate of Rs.10 each if taken out for a year, or any unexpired portion of a year, and at the rate of Rs.2.50 if taken out only for one month.
III. In order that the "food supply of the people" should be provided for, a number of free licenses to be issued annually to native hunters, say one for every five hundred inhabitants of any forest district, on the following conditions, (a) that the man is a permanent resident in the district in which he is allowed to shoot, (b) that he does not allow any other person to use his licensed gun, (c) that he does not shoot more than a specified, limited quantity of game during the year, (d) that he brings to the Kachcheri the horns and hides of all deer shot, which will be sold by auction quarterly, and half the proceeds paid over to him, (e) that he sells the meat, either fresh or dried, only to villagers for local consumption, at prices fixed by the chief headman with the approval of the Game Board, (f) that he does not use any irregular method of killing game, such as pitfalls, traps, spring-guns, driving with dogs, or poison, and that he does not not kill fawns, (g) that he does not shoot in "sanctuaries," (h) that he does his utmost to prevent killing of game by unlicensed persons, (i) that his license may be cancelled at any time, without notice or compensation, if not availed of or abused.
These free licenses to be given for purely forest districts, and none to be given to Government officials or headmen of any rank. The licensed hunters to be allowed to shoot at any time all the year round, to the limit allowed, and to be entitled to a moiety of all fines recovered for offences against the game laws reported by them.
If, in the opinion of the Game Board, game is scarce in any particular district, no free license to be issued for that district, or only a very few head allowed to be killed in it.
Some of the advantages of this system of free licenses would be that (a) a body of unpaid game-keepers would be formed, whose interest it would be to prevent illicit destruction of game, (b) the jungle people would be able to get meat for food of what they are practically deprived by the present Ordinance, (c) the useless destruction of game through wounded animals dying in the jungle would be reduced, as licenses would be issued only to men known to be good shots and to possess good guns, (d) reliable information would be obtained to quantity of game killed annually, and (e) the killing n each district could be regulated to some extent according to the head of game it carried.
The principal danger under the system would be that the licensed hunters will be tempted by greed to allow other men to shoot for them ; also to exceed the limit allowed, but there would always be plenty of persons, jealous of their privileges, who would be ready to inform against them. The penalty threatened by the Ordinance of Rs.100 fine and three months' imprisonment, with loss of a lucrative occupation, would probably induce them to act fairly honestly.
IV. All guns to be licensed annually, at the rate of Rs.2.50 each for breechloaders, and Rs.1 each for muzzle-loaders.
V. The close season to be abolished as having failed entirely to prevent the illicit destruction of game.
VI. Shed horns to be declared "forest produce" under the Forest Ordinance, and the right to collect them to be sold annually in each Province, under the condition that none are to be removed from the Province till they have been inspected, and a pass obtained from some duly appointed officer.
VII. The Customs Department to be directed by Government to keep separate returns of all sambhur hides and horns and all cheetul hides and horns exported, also a separate return of all shed horns. There need be no difficulty in distinguishing shed from cut horns ; no intelligent man can be deceived after he has once been shewn the difference.