The ring elephants moved in toward the spot, flattening the grass before them with their trunks. Something orange hurtled through the air at the lead bull. The elephant screamed and spun on its hind legs, remarkably agile for its size. The other elephants backed off, then began moving in again. They stopped abruptly, trunks extended. One of the men pointed into the grass. The commander in chief borrowed the King's rifle and moved in slowly ahead of the other elephants. Then, leaning out to one side, he fired. We heard the dull thwack as the coup de gr�ce struck home.
I congratulated the King on his shot. Even in good light it would have been a difficult one. He was disappointed that I had not seen the tiger, because he had wanted me to shoot the first one. "I myself could see only a tiny white patch of its face," he explained. "It was not a good target. Tomorrow we shall find you a better one."
It was almost dark when we reached the jeeps. Stewards had set up a table of sandwiches, cold meats, fruits, sweets and a variety of drinks. We stood in a circle around the food, talking of the afternoon's adventure. The trappings were new, but the mood was familiar. It might have been the end of a hunt in Montana or Georgia or Michigan, except for the distant shapes of elephants silhouetted against the evening sky and the sound of native drums from a far hill.
We returned to camp by jeep. The night was filled with stars and jungle noises. It was surprisingly cool after the 85� heat at midday. Temperatures in the Terai drop as much as 40� when the sun goes down. In spite of having the army with us, we got lost twice on the way back. The Crown Prince seemed to be the only one who knew the way, although he was less familiar with the area than many of the soldiers. He was also the best mechanic in the crowd. When a jeep refused to start, it was His Royal Highness Prince Birendra who rolled up his sleeves, stuck his head under the hood and got the engine going again.
The air was festive when we arrived at camp. Hundreds o� natives waited outside the compound to see the tiger and congratulate His Majesty. Although man-eaters are rare here, the natives fear and hate the big cat for the damage it does to their livestock. Long into the night we could hear the sound of their drums celebrating the tiger's demise.
A large bonfire burned inside the compound, and near it the King's tiger lay propped on golden paws. In the fire's glow the big cat looked twice the size it had in the jungle. It weighed over 600 pounds and measured 10 feet 4 inches from nose to tail. "There are still larger ones in the Terai," His Majesty said. "Perhaps tonight an even bigger tiger will come to the bait. That one will be yours." I could not imagine a bigger tiger than His Majesty's and hoped I would not meet one, not caring to top the King. Fortunately, this first tiger of the shikar remained the largest one taken on the shoot.
A tiger did come to the bait that night, as the King predicted. In the morning the natives brought us word of where it slept. Again the shikaris made the long journey to the place where they hoped the tiger rested. Again they strung the ring of white cloth into a mile-wide circle. Again I climbed into His Majesty's howdah and loaded my rifle. I had the feeling that this had all happened before. I wondered if the tigers, too, were following a "programme." I did not wonder long.
This tiger did not wait for us to get ready or for the attack elephants to flush it. Infuriated by the interruption of its nap, the cat recklessly charged first one, then another bull, raking at their flanks with great, sharp claws. Rivulets of blood ran down the thick gray hides.
The elephants whirled in circles, screaming and trumpeting their anger and confusion. Like punch-drunk prizefighters, they lurched uncertainly from side to side. They did not seem to know whether to charge or flee.
The tiger was in one place and then another, moving with unbelievable speed. A tuft of grass swayed on the left. A bush quivered on the right. A roar rolled from the far side of the circle, then from the brush in front of us. The tiger seemed to be everywhere. It exploded from the grass, sinking its teeth into the tender trunk of an elephant. The animal bellowed in pain, swinging its head frantically to shake the tiger loose. A big bull rushed in to help. The tiger leaped at the trunk of this one, unmindful of its size. The bull caught the tiger on its tusks and flipped it high in the air. The men outside the ring cheered.