2007, Oct 18: Cow-Eating Tree Reported in India

On October 23, 2007, the NewIndPress.com website -- an English language site carrying news from India -- posted a bizarre story that came to them from the small village of Patrame (mistakenly called "Padrame" in the article), located about 30 kilometers from the city of Uppinangady in the state of Karnataka, India. Within hours, the report had gone viral worldwide. What was the fuss about? NewIndPress reported that a tree near the village had been seen to reach down and lift a cow off the ground, presumably preparatory to eating the animal!

       The event had reportedly happened on the previous Thursday, October 18. The cow had been grazing in the forest that blended with the town itself; and when the tree grabbed it, the cowherd watching all the animals ran for help. A band of villagers returned led by Anand Gowda, the owner of the cow. The group struck at the tree's branches until they went limp, and the cow was rescued.

        The NewIndPress report then went on to state that a Range Forest Officer from Uppinangady named Subramanya Rao had received many complaints about cows coming home in the evenings missing their tails, and that the local name for such a plant was 'Pili Mara', which translates as "Tiger Tree." Though the field staff in the area stated they had come across a similar tree in Patrame, which had partially been chopped down, it was also admitted no official inquiry had been made into the matter as no one had asked for a report.

More Information, Please!

        Perhaps not surprisingly, within days of the release of the NewIndPress report a team of reporters -- from Daijiworld TV -- made the long trek out to Patrame to double-check the details of the strange story. On October 27, Daijiword released their press article... along with a rather awful, yet charming, YouTube video [Link Here]. They got a very different story from the villagers.

Pushpalatha InterviewedPushpalatha being interviewed. [Larger picture here]

        On October 18, a young woman named Pushpalatha was walking through the forest between the village's structures to go to the shop about midday when she saw a tree lifting a struggling cow by its hind-quarters from the ground. The animal’s tail and hind legs were tangled in the plant’s limbs; only it’s front legs were touching dirt. The cow was trying to pull itself away from the tree, and the tree was trying to pull the cow back towards itself. Pushpalatha then ran for her mother, Kunnhi, and both women ran back; Kunnhi warned her daughter to not touch the tree. A local farmer named Vasanna was work on a fence nearby, and came over to help. He started to cut branches off the tree... but the plant did not release its grip on the cow until the whole tree itself was cut down. The tree had not been a very big tree at all.

The stumpReporters are shown what's left of the tree. [Larger version here]

        The reporters interviewed Ananda Gowda, the owner of the cow. He was applying medicines to the cow's tail, which was still in pain from its experience. Gowda told them that trees that attack were known locally as Pili Mara, or "Tiger Trees," and that they were mentioned in some folk songs. In the recent past, several of the villagers had complained their cows had returned home from grazing with unexplained injuries... it was now generally assumed the troublesome tree was the reason for this, and that the problems were over.

       Another villager named Puttanna recalled that there had been another such tree in the area of the village thirty years earlier, which grabbed a bull; the villagers had to cut the branches off the tree to save the animal. In this earlier incident, however, the tree involved had been of a species called locally a 'Sarali'... so the species of the tree did not necessarily warn which could become a Pili Mara. It was also told that a Pili Mara could be climbed if the tree was pierced with a sickle first; the iron in the sickle had power over carnivorous trees.

        In retrospect, it seemed clear that the first report released by NewIndPress was a spectacular garble of Puttanna's story of the earlier tree attack with Ananda Gowda's information about 'Tiger Trees'.

Did It Happen...?

        As far as the truth of the incident goes, we only have what the witnesses claimed to have seen. It has been asserted by skeptics that the cow merely got its tail caught in the low branches of the tree, and then got its hind legs caught up as it tried to push the tree away; the tree then only looked like it was pulling the cow towards it because the cow was bending the tree away from it's normal position. Of course this explanation relies on one assumption I always hate: the assumption that the witnesses are either lying or not intelligent enough to recognize the situation the skeptics have described. Both of these are assertions skeptics are rarely brave enough to state in a straightforward way.

        On the other hand, I'd like to point out what the 'experts' didn't say while explaining away the story... clearly, what is being described by the villagers, whether real or not, is a belief that some sort of malevolent spirit is capable of inhabiting a tree and giving it motion and hunger for flesh. The idea of using iron to calm the tree matches worldwide folklore about the use of iron in other cultures to quiet spirits and drive away fairies and monsters. This also matches the idea that no particular species of tree could be identified as a 'Pili Mara' because any tree could become one, depending on the local bad spirits.

        I personally like this report because it's a glimpse into a different set of ideas about what 'paranormal' is for a different country and culture; I don't remember anything like this ever being reported in the states! (but if you do, please tell me.)

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