Did the British use human babies as bait during crocodile hunts?

Did the British use human babies as bait during crocodile hunts?
Did the British use human babies as bait during crocodile hunts?
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The News Minute | March 16, 2015 | 5.45 pm IST

Human babies were used as bait to hunt crocodiles in India and other British colonies. In some colonies, advertisements were even placed in newspapers promising the safe return of the baby.

Two Sri Lankan wildlife experts have said in a research paper published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa in January 2015, that British colonialists “rented” babies in India, Sri Lanka and also in America to hunt crocodiles. The research paper titled “Were human babies used as bait in crocodile hunts in Colonial Sri Lanka” was authored by Anslem de Silva and Ruchira Somaweera.

The researchers quote several newspapers that published reports on how the British used babies of the local people to bait crocodiles India and Sri Lanka, but note that there was uncertainty as to how common the practice was. 

On September 1, 1894, the Record Union published a report titled “How British Sportsmen Hunt Crocodiles in India” quoting a British Army officer as saying that it was a “great sport” in India to hunt crocodiles.

This image was published in Long-based newspaper The Graphic on January 21, 1888.

The report says: “We used to have a great sport in India going out after crocodiles with Hindu babies as bait.” The report also details that the parents of the babies were paid six cents per day and that sometimes, the parents would not even insist that the babies were returned safely. The officer also claimed that with one particular baby girl as bait, he had shot 100 crocodiles and that it was not possible to follow the same practice in Florida, in the United States, during the same period. 

Several newspapers such as The Red Cloud Chief, The Helena Independent, Desert Evening News, Roanoke Times, referred to an advertisement titled “Babies wanted for crocodile bait. Will be returned alive.” which was published in a Sri Lankan newspaper named Ceylon Catholic Messenger.

Article in the Roanoke Times which quotes the advertisement in the Ceylon Catholic Messenger.

Accounts in various newspapers indicate that the British thought that the crocodiles were attracted to the brown skin of the babies and were attracted to the shore by their cries. After shooting the reptile, the hunter would take possession of the skin and head and leave the rest of the flesh for the local people. One newspaper said: “The baby is taken home to its loving parents, to be used for the same purpose the next day.”

British colonialists also followed a similar practice in the United States where the babies of African-Americans were used as late as the early 20th century to hunt for crocodiles. A headline in the Oakland Tribune published on September 21, 1923 read “Pickaninny bait lures voracious gator to death”. The report says that the babies of black parents were used a live bait for two cents. Pickaninny is a derogatory term for blacks.

However, the researchers note that the existence of the practice need not mean that it was common or even widespread. They say: “It is also important to note that the frequency of these does not necessarily imply that the practice was common or widespread. Indeed, it appears that an article in one newspaper was picked up and reproduced by other newspapers, even at a much later date (e.g., after eight years in one case above), just as it does nowadays, albeit electronically and much faster.”

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