The last tiger to be shot in Hong Kong – a truth stranger than fiction

When researching the background to the war chapters of Fragrant Haven I read George Wright-Nooth’s Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, from which I quote:

“Last night Langston and Dalziel who were sleeping outside at the back of the bungalow, were woken up at about 5.00 a.m. by snarls and growls. Langston…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’…”

So I had to put a tiger in my novel, even if the truth is stranger than fiction.

Tigers are not indigenous to Hong Kong and from the start there were two main theories about the origins of this one:

1) it was one of those south China tigers who ‘every decade or two’ and had swum across from the mainland;

2) it had escaped or been released from a circus, perhaps one ‘located in Causeway Bay’.

Recently a new twist has been added to the ‘circus’ theory: perhaps the Japanese deliberately released it. Some Chinese people had the idea that the sudden appearance of a tiger in a region marked the end of the old and the start of a new political order – in this case the end of the British Empire and the beginning of Japanese rule.

The last time I visited Hong Kong, I paid a visit to the Tin Hau temple in Stanley Village. Built in 1767 and said to be the oldest building in the territory, it was renovated after damage in a typhoon although the interior is traditional. A sign explains that the tiger skin hanging on the wall came from an animal that ‘weighed 240 pounds, was 73 inches long and three feet high’. It was shot by an Indian policeman in front of Stanley Police Station in the year 1942. This is the photo I took: