Jim Corbett: the Hunter, the Conservationist, the Legend
The Jim Corbett National Park was established on 8 August 1936. Here’s a closer look at the man it is named after.
It’s not every day that the words hunter and conservationist are used in a sentence to refer to the same person, but that’s exactly who Edward James Corbett was. He was a man who used his hunting prowess for the good of both animals and humankind.
Born in Nainital on 25 July 1875, during the British Raj, Jim Corbett grew in close proximity to forests and would embark on excursions that helped him familiarise himself with many birds and animals. Because of this close-quarters interaction with wildlife, he became a good hunter and tracker.
Corbett was often asked to kill man-eating tigers and leopards by the government of the United Provinces, which now comprise the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. He killed 33 man-eaters between 1907 and 1938 – 19 tigers and 14 leopards including the infamous Champawat Tiger – and was considered responsible for 436 recorded deaths and the Panar Leopard. This leopard was thought to have killed 400 people.
Despite developing these skills as a hunter, his interactions with nature left him with a deep respect for the animal world, especially tigers and big cats. In the foreword to Jim Corbett’s book ‘Man-eaters of Kumaon,’ the Marquess of Linlithgow bears witness to this respect and admiration.
The reader will find in these stories many proofs of the author’s love of nature. Having spent in Major Corbett’s company some part of such holidays as I have contrived to take during my time in India, I can with confidence write of him that no man with whom I have hunted in any continent better understands the signs of the jungle.Marquess of Linlithgow, Governor-General and Viceroy of India (1887-1952)
He goes on to add that Jim Corbett had often told him “of the intense happiness he has derived from his observations of wild life”.
Though Corbett was famous for helping the residents of villages like Garhwal and Kumaon by ridding them of man-eaters, he was an environmentalist at the end of the day. In the author’s note in ‘Man-eaters of Kumaon’, Corbett makes it a point to highlight that man-eaters are, in fact, an anomaly and not a natural occurrence.
A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it. The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case old age.Jim Corbett in ‘Man-eaters of Kumaon’
Corbett also tried his best to highlight the role of humans in the creation of man-eaters.
The wound that has caused a particular tiger to take to man-eating might be the result of a carelessly fired shot and failure to follow up and recover the wounded animal, or be the result of the tiger having lost his temper when killing a porcupine.Jim Corbett in ‘Man-eaters of Kumaon’
It is this love for nature that led to the naming of the Jim Corbett National Park, the famous tiger reserve in Uttarakhand, after him.
(This story was first published on 25 July 2015, and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Jim Corbett’s death anniversary.)
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