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Sunday, February 8

Human babies as crocodile bait: hunting practices of the British in Colonial India

mugger crocodile, Crocodylus palustris, crocodile hunting
A mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) under captivity in an Indian Zoo.
  The idea of using live human babies as crocodile bait may sound horrific, but the 19th century British hunters in colonial Sri Lanka and India found the idea so charming for big game hunting. A recent review of the 19th century records reveal that at least some British crocodile hunters during the colonial rule used live babies rented from the natives as bait to lure crocodiles.

    As per the review carried out by Anslem de Silva of  Amphibian and Reptile Research Organisation of Sri Lanka and Ruchira Somaweera of Biologic Environmental Survey, Australia, the hunters used to advertise in newspapers like the Ceylon Catholic Messenger in Ceylon [old name of present Sri Lanka]  to find native parents who will ‘rent’ the baby to the hunter to be used as crocodile bait. Articles in British Magazines like The Richmond Dispatch and the Record-Union in 1894 include quotes from British crocodile hunters about how they used to rent out babies for six cents a day for crocodiling in India. 

     At least some of these hunters believed that there is nothing better than a live human baby to lure crocodiles out of water to a comfortable shooting distance. For instance, the ex-army officer claims to have shot more than 100 crocodiles from India using the same baby girl as the bait. 

   "I used to have the Option on an Indian baby that was the most killing bait for crocodiles in all that part of India. I killed more than one hundred crocodiles with that youngster as a lure before she outgrew her usefulness. She had the most persistent and far-reaching yell I ever heard come out of mortal being, and no crocodile could resist it. She was a real siren in luring the big reptiles to their fate, and I was sorry to see her grow and get too big for bait and have to give her up", says the hunter in the Richmond Dispatch report

   The reviewers located at least 19 newspaper reports or articles published in the UK, Australia and the US from 1888 to 1910 which mention this horrific hunting practice by the British in India and Sri Lanka. These records note that the hunter used to hide near to the ‘bait’ and will shoot the crocodile when it comes closer to the baby. According to the quotes of a crocodile hunter from India, sometimes, the crocodile get away with the bait also. 

   It is interesting to examine at how the Western media looked at this practice in its reportage. Many mentioned that the mothers in Ceylon were so confident about the British hunters that they were willing to rent out babies four days a week for two shillings a day. 

  While in India, according to the quote from the crocodile hunter, women used to flock him to get their babies rented out as bait. "The babies were brought back all right as a rule, but once in a while some sportsman was a trifle slow with his rifle, or made a bad shot, and the crocodile got away with the bait, but that didn't happen often ", says the Richmond Dispatch report. 

Moreover, the narrative of the colonial media also wonders that these live baits were almost indifferent to the approaching crocodile but were so scared of the sound of the gun shot.

crocodile hunting, babies as crocodile bait


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed. In fact, historical records show that Whites also used black kids for hunting. It is more about how power relations are constructed in the society. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Sounds horrific but a great interesting post. Thanks for shedding light on this subject.

  3. Shocking truth but I really doubt If mothers rented out their babies or those culprits had put guns on other family members and took the babies

    1. Dear SAG,

      Could be. Because whatever recorded history about this practice we have access to now, are mainly part of the colonial narrative- like British/american news papers quoting British hunters. Obviously, they are not telling the perspective of the natives.

  4. The Britishers and Americans have committed every possible atrocity on the natives of every continent that they ruled. The Red Indians were killed, the Africans were made slaves, the whole of China got addicted to opium. They colonised, they looted the wealth of the natives, converted them for exchange of food. Destroyed their culture and traditional way of living! They destroyed the traditional agriculture practices and made farmers grow indigo, tea, coffee, tobacco and sugarcane instead of their traditional millets and other stuff, thereby denying nutrition in their diet and making them depended only on paddy.

    They used our soldiers to fight their wars.

    Today when thousands of British teenagers are becoming drug addicts, indulging in alcohol and some are even being sexually abused and raped, these Britishers have the audacity to tell us that rape is because of our culture! Their families are disintegrating, no moral values such their society and culture! Now they are coming to sermonise us.

    I agree we Indians have a lot of issues and are confident that we will be able to overcome all of them.

    But I want to ask this white race of people who are very proud of their culture and religion, look around all over the world and look at the destruction your race caused for the past five centuries and continues to do so!

    Look within your society, the basic fabric that keeps the society as good one is long gone! You marry, divorce and let the children be sexually abused and take to drugs and alcohol. What future are you giving to the world? Act before your civilisation perishes!

    1. Dear Kaarmic,

      The most funny thing about human society i that we dont take lessons from history. If we look into the way power is constructed and functioning in the society, we can see that similar practices in different forms are existing world across even today, even in India. The actors and victims change and the nature of practice change, that's all. It is not a question of a particular race, but human race as a whole. After all, all of the human race, like many other animal species on earth, has a very high chance of going extinct over a period of time.

  5. Talk about ugly. There is an element of sadism in this story. These are the same people who declared a "white man's burden" to save non-white people. Somehow I don't think that project went very far.

  6. I have to wonder if anyone felt a need to write a letter to the editor in response to these articles

  7. this is very rude behaviour of britishers and they should be ashamed of it.


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