According to Dane Huckelbridge, a little more than 100 years ago in India and Nepal a “prolific serial killer . . . stalked the foothills of the Himalayas.” Marauding with “shocking impunity” and “almost supernatural efficacy” for nearly a decade, the murderer evaded “police, bounty hunters, [and] an entire regiment of Nepalese Gurkhas.” Before its trail of death came to a violent end in 1907, the monster killed—and ate—436 men, women and children, “more, some believe, than any other individual killer, man or animal, before or since.” Mr. Huckelbridge tells the tale of this “Beowulfian” assassin in his well-written, informative and at times thrilling new book, “No Beast So Fierce: The Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History.”
The Champawat man-eater was a Bengal tiger, a creature with “innate predatory gifts . . . infinitely superior to our own.” Perfectly camouflaged and stalking on “silent, padded feet,” Bengal tigers are capable of bursts of speed of up to 40 miles an hour and generally weigh 400 to 500 pounds. The kinetic impact of their “blindingly fast” surprise attacks can snap necks and crush ribs. Once latched onto their prey, these tigers rake their victims with 3- to 4-inch flesh-shredding claws and bite with fangs that pulverize bones. Accounts document hungry Bengal tigers “ripping 15-foot crocodiles to pieces, tearing the heads off 20-foot pythons, and dragging 300-pound harbor seals out of the ocean.” When prey isn't plentiful, they have killed and eaten rhinoceroses and elephants.