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An endemic enigma: the secret identity of Hong Kong's black paradise fish
New reef fish from High Island dam dollos
The humphead wrasse: a threatened species
Reproductive biology of Halichoeres nigrescens, the bubblefin wrasse
What is SCRFA?
Starling Inlet - tomorrow's empty wetland?
The 2002 Woodland Breeding Bird Survey - result highlights
Nesting population of egrets and herons in 2002-preliminary results
Is the Yellow-throated Marten in Hong Kong?
More tiger talk

More tiger talks

by Dan Waters
Long Benefit Enteprises, Ltd.

I enjoyed reading Porcupine! (Number 25, May 2002), especially the article entitled, "A view to a kill – the mythologisation process in action", by Jonathan Downes. In fact I enjoyed it so much I have been prompted to add my own two penn’orth. For what it’s worth here it is.

In early 1955, I recall news went around that a leopard had been spotted in the New Territories. On this occasion it was probably no more than a rumour. Leopards were rarer than South China Tigers. Quite frequently in the 1950s and ‘60s, news went the rounds that a tiger was visiting (or had visited) the Colony. I believe and still like to believe that tigers came into Hong Kong for short periods, from Guangdong, during my early days here.

I arrived less than a decade after the end of World War Two. Many of my colleagues had been interned and some mentioned on odd occasions the tiger that was shot by Rur Singh, an Indian policeman, in front of Stanley police station in May 1942. Some would add, "Of course there was a circus in town when the Japanese attacked (in December 1941), a tiger must have escaped –

G. A. C. Herklots took a rather different view. In his book, The Hong Kong Countryside Throughout the Seasons (South China Morning Post) first edition published in 1951 and long out of print, he wrote:

"During our internment at Stanley a remarkable story filtered into the camp that there was a tiger at large on Hong Kong Island. Later it was reported to be on Stanley Peninsula; our Formosan guards got very excited and it was risky walking about in the evening for an excited guard might fire at a prisoner mistaking him for a tiger! Soon pug marks were seen in the camp: I examined some myself but was by no means convinced. Then the story was spread that the tiger had been shot dead and finally there came into camp a Chinese or Japanese paper containing a photograph of the dead tiger. This photograph I saw. People said it was a menagerie animal that had got loose: a likely story! It is strange how loath people are to believe that tigers do visit the Colony and occasionally swim the harbour and visit the Island."

The animal was skinned by a European butcher named B.W. Bradbury who was also an inmate at Stanley during the occupation. He had previously worked for the Dairy Farm. Geoffrey Emerson says in his M.Phil Thesis, Stanley Internment Camp, Hong Kong, 1942-1945 ( HKU,1973), that it was a male tiger and the Hong Kong News (31st May 1942) reported it weighed 240lbs and was six feet long with a 19-inch tail. Officers of the Jockey Club were given the "rare treat of a feast of tiger meat". There were also reports that Indian guards had seen the tiger’s mate and two cubs but these were never found.

The skin of this animal may still be seen hanging in a glass-fronted case in the Tin Hau Temple at Stanley in a poor state of preservation. Emerson writes in his thesis, "The truth was never discovered (whether it was an escape or if it really swam)". If it actually swam one wonders where it crossed the harbour? Possibly at the narrowest part, where it was relatively quieter, somewhere down by Lei Yue Mun perhaps?

For the doubters among us I would remind you of the words of author Jonathan Downes in his Porcupine! article quoted above. In it he says:

"G.A.K (sic) Herklots was probably the greatest single naturalist ever to work with the wildlife of Hong Kong."

Who was he? Dr Geoffrey Herklots was a Reader in biology at Hong Kong University before World War Two. After the War was over he went back to London and joined the Colonial Service. At one stage, I have been informed, he was Principal of The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad. We are blessed however in one respect. He was prolific and wrote a lot about Hong Kong in his own inimitable, light-hearted style. His books are out of print now but they can be borrowed from libraries.


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