Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

THE 1942 HONG KONG TIGER: A new twist...

Some months ago I wrote about a tiger shot in Hong Kong in 1942 by soldiers of the occupying Japanese Army. Regular readers of my inky-fingered scribblings here and elsewhere will know that I have been obsessed with the provenance of this particular animal for many years. Now, thanks to a passage in an excellent book called Prisoner of the Turnip Heads by George Wright-Nooth, which tells the often harrowing story of his time spent as a P.O.W in Stanley Internment Camp on Hong Kong Island during WW2, the mystery is a little closer to being solved.

30 May, 1942.
Last night Langston and Dalziel who were sleeping outside at the back of the bungalow were woken up at about 5.00 am by snarls and growls. Langston, at Dalziel’s instigation, got up to have a look. He went to the edge of the garden and looked down the slope to the wire fence. There Dalziel saw him leap in the air and fly back into the boiler room shouting ‘There’s a tiger down there’ .... Next morning, on being told the story we were inclined to laugh.

31 May, 1942.
Slept very badly owing to stomach trouble. During the night we were woken by three rapid shots and much shouting.

1 June, 1942.
Early this morning there was much activity on the hill behind the camp which was being searched by parties of Chinese and Indian police under Japs .... One of the Chinese supervisors told me that an Indian policeman had been mauled by a tiger at about 2.00 am."

Two tiger guards were instituted, one armed with a gong, the other with a gardening fork. The bungalows had no doors or windows so for several nights there was considerable apprehension at night.

4 June, 1942.
As usual we all slept outside. At about 3 am I heard Colin say, ‘Geoffrey! Don’t move there’s a TIGER eating a bone behind your bed!’ Then he said, ‘Stephen, nobody move. The tiger is at the foot of Stephen’s bed.’ My bed was around the corner so I loosened my mosquito net and very gradually slipped out of bed ready to take some action, but what I, or any one else, could do was doubtful. Then Colin said, ‘Where is Farrar? My God! He’s eating him.’ This was too much for Searle who came along to see what was happening. Colin then shouted, ‘Don’t move, you fool Searle!’ Just then Farrar woke up and it was discovered that what Colin had seen was a black coat lying across Farrar’s body with one end lying on his white pillow. The pillow he thought was the bone and the coat the animal."

A tiger was indeed on the loose, probably from a circus that had been located at Causeway Bay. It was subsequently shot and the carcass, which weighed some 240 lbs, was given to an internee called Bradbury to be skinned. He had worked as a butcher at the main dairy farm and was probably the most unpopular man in the camp a real life Uriah Heap as I will explain later. As the reader is aware this skin is still on display today in the Stanley Tin Hau temple.

Bradbury’s photograph subsequently appeared with the dead animal in a Japanese newspaper, although I did not see it in the Hong Kong News."

So, it looks like it was a circus animal after all, rather than a bona fide South Chinese tiger. This, however is supportive evidence for an even more intriguing question. As I write in my autobiography Monster Hunter (2004):

Back in the late 1960s I remember talking about the affair to my beloved amah - Ah Tim. She told me that according to Chinese belief, the tiger was the King of Beasts and the arrival of a tiger unexpectedly in a neighbourhood was often seen as an omen that a new Emperor or King was about to take the throne. It is certain that some people at the time saw the death of the unfortunate tiger in Stanley Internment Camp as being a signal that the reign of the King-Emperor George VI was nearing an end, and the reign of the God-Emperor Hirohito was about to begin!

It seems likely that the invading Japanese were determined to extract the maximum of publicity from the event by exploiting local folk beliefs. Near the end of the war when it was obvious that they would lose, they were still fermenting Chinese Nationalist feelings, often through the use of cultural motifs, and sometimes by recruiting collaborators, in an attempt to ensure that at least the British would no longer be in power in Hong Kong. They failed, as history has proven, but the different stories I managed to unearth over a period of some thirty years suggested that someone, either wittingly or unwittingly, was not telling the whole truth.

The whole affair is a real mystery, and excitingly it is a mystery that I hope that eventually I shall be able to solve. Although there is no doubt that South China tigers did visit Hong Kong on many occasions, it is very tempting to speculate that the unfortunate creature that was shot in 1941 was, indeed, a captive animal which had been released in the area by the occupying Japanese forces as a crude - but remarkably successful - piece of psychological warfare.

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