By Shaminda Silva
The word ‘man eater’ could be associated with any large predator or carnivore and is randomly heard from all parts of the world, but very strangely, this is a term which is more often than not, regularly whispered within the Indian Sub Continent, particularly in India and to a much lesser degree in Sri Lanka, bringing fear to the hearts of the listeners. Unlike in India, there are no lions or tigers which are native to Sri Lanka and hence, our man eaters are exclusively leopards.
The Sloth Bear which is endemic to the South East Asian region including Sri Lanka, is also known to have become a man eater. But as records speak, the sloth bear tends to attack people and maul them more often than any other big cat, because of its short sightedness and panicked state and not with the real intention of having a meal. There are many instances where the indigenous people of the country, hunters and jungle dwellers have been attacked and mauled by the Sloth Bear.
Retuning back to the Indian Subcontinent, even though many people at present times, especially the younger generations might not have heard about man eaters and would not even show concern for such stories, they were real horror movies repeated in real life, just a century ago. The legends such as Jim Corbette and Kenneth Anderson, who has published several books on their experiences, gives firsthand accounts of the cunningness of the creatures, their ability to observe and adapt and how the hunter becomes the hunted.
Anchetty, Salem District of Madras, both shot down by the Kenneth Anderson. Then there was the Sangam Panther of the Western Ghatts, the Great Panther of Mudiyanoor (which was close to 8” in length) of the Nilgiri Range.Many experts who study big cats say that the habitual man eating big cat did not emerge over the last century, but would have existed since the dawn of humans. Infact during the prehistoric times and after the age of dinosaurs, sabre tooth cats were also notable predators, along with several other gigantic bears and carnivorous mammals and are believed to have been hunting humans for food
Many experts in the field say that man eaters are not born, but occur with the passage of time because they are given the easy opportunity of tasting human flesh or because they are driven by certain disabilities which prevent them from hunting the usual prey.
Man eater of Punani
Keeping this in mind, we would only have the privilege to write about the man eaters of Sri Lanka, of which there are records available or have become legends with the passage of time. The first documented and infact the most famous man eater of them, was the man eater of Punani, in the Eastern Province. It is said to have killed about 20 people before it was shot down by Captain Shelton Agar. There are two written accounts of the man eater of Punani, one by Captain Shelton Agar himself and the other by A.H.Altendorff, an inspector for the construction of railway between Batticaloa and Trincomalee.
Even though the exact origins of the man eater of Punani is not very clear, the records indicate that the main road leading from Trincomalee to Batticaloa and the Punani area was used as its preferred hunting grounds. As per certain narrations, it is presumed that the Man Eater of Punani originates from a sheer accident when the leopard came across a young moor boy huddled under a tree where he was looking after his cattle. The cat had been after a bull of the herd, but missed it and then landed on the boy and had caught him by the throat and dragged him into the jungle. It is said that the leopard had taken a liking for human flesh thereafter.
The last victim was the tappal runner who had been specifically warned by his superiors to not take usual road, but take the old road to avoid the man eater or else arm himself adequately. But unfortunately the tappal runner had failed to heed to the advice and on the fateful morning, taken the main road with the belief that he would be safe because there were workers constructing the railway, just alongside the main road. He had been ambushed at the 28th milepost on the main road. The Railway Inspector, while he was returning for his mid-day meal had found the tappal bag close to the 28th milepost and assumed that the worst had happened. Accordingly, the word had been immediately sent to the G.A. Batticaloa and Captain Shelton Agar had been requested to place an end to the feared man eater.
Captain Agar had been able to come to Punani in the afternoon on the same day. The following words are his own narration.
“ we arrived at the 28th milepost about 3.00 pm and saw at once that this attack had taken place only a few yards away from the previous kill, which I followed up at end of May. There was absolutely nothing to indicate that there had been a struggle here-no blood, nothing except that small piece of cloth the inspector saw which might not in the ordinary way have been noticed, if the tappal bag had not been seen. A small hole in the cheddy showed where the man had been dragged away.
The following up of the dragged body was a similar business to that described in my previous article. We soon came to the place where I had found the previous corpse, and a little further on I noticed that the skull of the man I had reported missing on my earlier visit, and then indications showed that we were nearing the end of the present search. In a few moments we found the waist cloth, then belt (one pocket open, the other pocket contained some cash and a letter), then a match box and some cigarettes, vest torn to pieces and covered with blood, and a little further away the nude body.
Ths corpse was in much the same condition as the previous one. A good deal more of him had been eaten. The leopard was evidently hungry. The man was killed by a terrible bite at the base of the skull and neck, and the neck was twisted round. There were no scratches or bites as far as I could see. He must have been killed instantly and carried away before the bleeding commenced. All the insides and a good part of the left leg had been eaten. The face, arms and right leg had not been touched. The body was fairly fresh. I felt certain that we had disturbed the leopard at his feed and that he was lurking nearby”
Captain Agar goes on to state that he had got down some workers to have a machan built and while they were working on it, they heard the growls of the leopard close by, most probably watching them. Then upon getting dark, when they turned back to return and within no time the leopard had returned to the kill and attempted to drag away the corpse. Though he had fired the leopard had escaped. Then he had sent his workers and his driver to come back with his torch and food and stayed back. The leopard had not returned. His driver had returned after some hours and on the next day at around 3 pm, the leopard had returned to the kill, while he and his driver was up the machan. The next happening is from his own words.
“I dared not move or take my eyes off him to give my driver the tip that the leopard had come. My 470 was ready on my lap, the safety catch slipped up. I knew at this range I could place the bullet where I like, and I chose the neck shot, as I knew at that angle the explosive bullet would rake the creature’s vital organs. As the shot the leopard rolled over- stone dead, never to do any more dirty work.
This has taken some time to put on paper, but the climax was just a matter of a second. At the sound of the shot, all my people and others who had collected round my car to wait for the result came running back. I found my first shot of the night before had gazed the abdomen of the beast, without doing serious harm. I soon had a pole cut to carry the creature away. I wished to get out of the cursed place with its ugly sight as soon as possible. Corpse smells were suffocating me. I wanted some vast, wonderful, sweet smelling perfume to cover all over me.
The people of Punani gave me a hearty welcome back. They were very excited over the kill and cheered lustily as I went away. That was the reward I wanted.
The man eater was not a very large leopard. His short stumpy tail took away from his measurements. He stood high off the ground, was in fine condition, and showed abnormal development for its size in respect of pads, neck muscles and head. The canine teeth were very long, he had a great number of knife wounds, old and new, showing that some of his victims had fought for their lives. It is curious none of these knives had been recovered. I suppose they have been picked up by passersby on the road and appropriated. As to how this leopard became a man eater I cannot venture an opinion. Perhaps he accidentally killed man in a state of alarm or began with a small child. I heard that his first victim was a young Moor boy, and may possible have been the beginning of his career”.
Depressingly, Captain Agar also states that the mistaken identities had led to the killing of several leopards in the area by sportsmen, which later turned out, not to be the man eater. He himself had previously shot four leopards of the same family in the same area and during daytime, on the Trincomalee – Batticaloa main road. The man eater of Punani was shot in 1924.
The Man eater of Komari
Even though after the death of the man eater of Punani there were hardly any such reported incidents, the next such reputed man eater also originates from the Eastern Province, from the village of Komari.
The year was 1936 and on a cold and ill fated night, a farmer from the village of Komari had heard the dreadful cries of a woman close to his chena. Believing in superstition and the famed cries of the Devil Bird, he had not gone to investigate. Then in the morning the villagers had found the head of the woman without the body. This was the first victim of the Komari man eater. The leopard went onto claim many lives of the villagers in the surrounding area. Even though I am not certain of the fact, it is stated that it was shot by a person named Clement Bartholomeuz, a seasoned hunter of the area and the village headman. It is said that the leopard had made the mistake of stalking the hunter, after he was retuning in the night from a solo hunt and that Clement had been vigilant and sharp enough to have realized that he was being stalked by the man eater. He had been a true sportsman who had bravely faced his adversary and put a bullet through the skull at the last moment and thereby ridden the area of a menace.
Lesser known man eaters of Ceylon
Sir Samuel Baker in Eighty Years, Wanderings in Ceylon (1855) reports of a man eater and the gruesome tale of a 16-year-old boy being eaten by a leopard. Henry Storey, a sportsman in colonial Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), was gruesomely attacked by a leopard in Kanthale, but lived to tell the tale with permanent injuries. Then again in the recent past, there was a fully grown leopard, which without any reason attacked a boy on a hand tractor in the Mannar District about a decade ago. There was another report of a strange leopard roaming the old Mannar Road which had a knack for motor cycles and would wait in ambush and charge at the rider and there were several motor cyclists in the Eluwankulama area who swore that a leopard chased after their motor cycle.
The most recent man eaters are reported from the Yala East National Park (more conveniently referred to as the Kumana National Park), which also coincidentally is in the Eastern Province. There were reports of one or two pilgrims of the pada yatra being eaten by leopards during the
past five years. Then the most recent report was of a construction worker engaged in renovation and construction work inside the Kumana National Park, being attacked inside the park by a leopard and succumbing to injuries.
The famed leopards of Lenema
Many authors in the country have take their time off to write on the Lenema Leopards, which are considered by some historians, anthropologists and writers to be creatures of myth and legend. But there is credible accounts by Hugh Neville, a Civil Servant and thereafter by Ven. Thambugala Anandasiri, who was a hermit monk and chief incumbent priest of the Kudumbigala Sanctuary, who mentions in his famed book, which speaks about his 25 years of experience in the jungle, that he had seen the Lenema Leopard and that it is bigger in size, different in colour and markings in the body and more ferocious than the Leopard (panthera pardus kotiya). He also states that the Lenema leopard is considered by the people in the area to attack people, without provocation. Unfortunately my knowledge on the subject is limited and hence I am unable to comment further on the Lenema leopards, but there are more knowledgeable authors who have written on the subject of Lenema leopards.
On a final note, I would like to reproduce an opinion given by Kenneth Anderson in The Panther’s Way – 1st edition 1959, on the origins of man eaters, which I believe is one of the most accurate descriptions on the subject. He states as follows;
“Every panther differs from any other panther. Some panthers are very bold; others very timid. Some are cunning to the degree of being uncanny; others appear quite foolish. I have met panthers that seemed almost to possess a sixth sense, and acted and behaved as if they could read and anticipate one’s every thought. Lastly, but quite rarely, comes the panther that attracts people, and more rarely still, the one that eats them.
A man eating beast is generally the outcome of some extraordinary circumstance. Maybe someone had wounded it, and it is unable henceforth to hunt its natural prey-other animals-easily. Therefore, through necessity it begins to eat humans, because they offer an easy prey. Or perhaps a panther has eaten a dead human body which was originally buried in a too shallow grave and later dug up by jackals or a bear. Once having tasted human flesh, the panther often takes a liking to it. Lastly, but very rarely indeed, it may have been the cub of a man eating mother, who taught it the habit”
 Jim Corbett National park in India is named after him
 Very large cats with extra long canines and big stout bodies, much bigger in size than the tigers or the lions
 Through shallow graves or exposes human corpses in the cemeteries or corpses floating in the rivers
 The person who was employed to carry the official mail
 Source – Man Eating Leopard of Punani –Sri Lanka, Compiled by Douglas B. Ranasinghe
 A temporary platform built on a tree for the purposes of shooting game
 A plot of land most often in the borders of the jungle, which is seasonally cultivated for several times and thereafter left for the forest to reclaim
 A yearly pilgrimage of the devotees of Lord Kataragama, who walk on foot from faraway places such as Jaffna and Trincomalee and sometimes coming from India by boat and walking from Jaffna onwards, they enter from the Okanda entrance of the Kumana National Park and traverse on foot through the jungle upto the Kataragama Shrine.
 An area in Okanda and Kudumbigala Monastry in the eastern province
The writer is a lawyer by profession and also a wildlife photographer, a travel and a wildlife writer and a nature enthusiast.