Saving For Posterity
The tigress had already killed 64 humans and he could be the next. He leaned against the rocky slope of a nearby hill and lit a cigarette. The tigress had already stalked him once before in this region and he wanted her to do it again. But he realised that the tigress was too clever. So, he thought of another trick. He used a buffalo as a bait for the tigress analysing that she would be able to kill it but unable to drag it off and he would take a shot at the big cat from the top of the hill. Rounding the hill in a dry riverbed, he observed lying a pair of Rock-jay eggs. As an amateur oölogist, or egg collector, he could not pass up these unusual specimens.
So, he wrapped the eggs with some moss and took them along towards the hilltop. Just as he made it past the big rock covering most of the riverbed, the beast was standing right there in front of him. He had been outfoxed. Before the tigress could attack him, he set his rifle in position and fired a single shot. The dead animal was the feared man-eater Chowgrath Tigress and the man who hunted the beast down was the famous British conservationist Jim Corbett. Born of Irish ancestry in the town of Nainital in the Kumaon of the Himalaya, Edward James Corbett was a British hunter, tracker and conservationist, author and naturalist. In the context of wildlife conservation in India, Jim Corbett’s name is widely respected for his efforts and his love for animals, especially the big cats like Tigers and Leopards.
From a very young age, Jim was fascinated by the forests and wildlife around him when in winters, his family used to visit Chhoti Haldwani (now known as Kaladhungi) where they owned a cottage named ‘Arundel’. Owing to his frequent excursions, he had already learned the calls by which various animals and birds could be identified. Over time, he became a good tracker and a hunter.
From his initial school days, he was not scared of tigers at all. He believed that tigers did not want anything from humans and just minded their own business. On one trek, he followed a meagre trail and pushed through a plum bush only to catch the attention of a tiger sleeping inside.
Corbett, a colonel in the British Indian Army was often given the task of killing man-eating tigers and leopards by the government of the then United Provinces (now the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh). Between 1907 and 1938, he tracked and shot a documented 19 tigers and 14 leopards which according to an estimate, had preyed upon more than 1200 men, women and children.
Among the many tigers he had killed, the Champawat Tiger was responsible for 436 documented deaths, the Panar Leopard had allegedly fed upon 400 innocent souls. One of the most famous was the man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, which terrorised the pilgrims to the holy Hindu shrines Kedarnath and Badrinath for more than ten years. Other notable man-eaters he killed were the Talla-Des man-eater, the Mohan man-eater, the Thak man-eater and the Chowgarh tigress. But the best part about him was that he never killed these big cats for any financial gains or awards or honours. It is also widely believed that Corbett never killed a Tiger or Leopard before confirming that it had preyed upon people. Corbett had the view that the leopards or the tigers that he killed were not maneaters by birth. After having shot down the Chowgarh tigress, Corbett found that she was afflicted by a collection of porcupine quills in her right foreleg. A porcupine’s quill does not dissolve like others and since the tigress had the quill embedded for such a long time, its bones had cratered with signs of infection.
Despite killing these big cats, Corbett was never a proud person who took pleasure in hunting them. In fact, he had developed respect for them. The various treks he went upon, following these magnificent creatures, noticing their movements, their habits, their way of living, Corbett came to the conclusion that these tigers and leopards deserved peace, love and respect, even the man-eaters too. “The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case old age,” Corbett once wrote, “Human beings are not the natural prey of tigers, and it is only when tigers have been incapacitated through wounds or old age that, in order to survive, they are compelled to take to a diet of human flesh.”
Corbett gave lectures on natural heritage and importance of conservation of tigers and leopards to school children and various societies. In the establishment of one of the oldest national parks of India, that is the Hailey National Park (initially named after Lord Malcolm Hailey), Jim Corbett had a big role to play. In his honour, the park’s name was later changed to Corbett National Park although it is a pity that it does not have Jim’s namesake: the Panthera tigris corbetti, also known as the Indochinese tiger, or Corbett’s tiger. This national park later on became the beginning spot for the Project Tiger launched in 1973. He also aided in the organization of the Association for the Preservation of Game in the United Provinces, and the All-India Conference for the Preservation of Wild Life.
After taking part in the World War II, Corbett retired and left for Kenya where he wrote down his experiences of facing tigers in the six books he penned down before his demise. One of those books which is widely read is Man-Eaters of Kumaon. Corbett might have left them but the villagers of Chhoti Haldwani or the ‘Corbett country’ have preserved the memories of ‘Corbett Sahib’ very carefully and are now spreading the message of conserving the environment and wildlife. This 25th July marks the 143rd birth anniversary of Jim Corbett and there is no better way of honouring him than passing on his message of conservation of environment to the next generation so that the balance of the ecosystem is maintained and the world can be a peaceful place to live.