It started as a ‘shoke’ — the Anglo-Indian slang word for ‘hobby’. Bored and lonely in Kathmandu, the young Assistant Resident, Brian Hodgson, began studying the flora and fauna of the hills, about the only occupation he was allowed to pursue apart from shooting woodcock and snipe under the constraints imposed by the Raja.
The unicorn of the Himalayas had cantered through Chinese mythology for centuries. In no time, Hodgson found a living specimen in the King’s menagerie, a panting antelope from the Tibetan plateau which, alas, soon expired, unable to survive at lower altitudes, but not before Hodgson had established that it in fact possessed two horns. The unlucky beast was christened Pantholops hodgsonii, the first of 22 species that bore his name by the time he was 30, including Hodgson’s Flying Squirrel, Hodgson’s Wild Cat, Hodgson’s Sand Fox and Hodgson’s Speckled Pigeon, all beautifully captured in watercolour by the local artists whom Hodgson trained, and reproduced in this handsome life of him by the old Himalayan hand Charles Allen.