Tigers are iconic creatures; their grace and beauty impossible to ignore. More so for the people who arrived in their South Asian homeland from distant shores. The British fell in love with the tiger while building their empire in India. They were following in the footsteps of previous conquerors – Greeks led by Alexander the Great from the Mediterranean or Mughals from Turkestan under Babur’s standard. Admiration and apprehension coloured the legend of the tiger, mixing fact with fiction in equal measure. Sample this excerpt from ‘Asia in the Making of Europe’ Volume II by Donald F Lach:

“Ctesias, the Greek physician who was the source of much fabulous lore about Indian animals, is often credited with reporting on the tiger for the first time. Through informants in Persia he learned about a marvelous Indian beast called ‘Martichoras’ (from Old Persian martijaqara meaning literally man-slayer). According to his description this beast resembles a lion, possesses a human face, carries a stinger in its tail, and shoots spines like arrows from its tail. The likelihood is that Ctesias is here repeating Persian lore about the Bengal tiger. His stories were then picked up and embellished by Pliny and Aelian.”

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on a painting (Buffle surpris par un tigre) by the Belgian artist Charles Verlat (dating back to 1853). It is kept in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, France. It was uploaded by Daniel Martin.