Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jim Corbett

Photo: Jim Corbett with the slain tiger, Bachelor of Powalgarh

Jim Corbett (Edward James Corbett), born on 25 July 1875 in Nainital in the Indian State of Uttarakhand, was a hunter of Irish ancestry. He was a conservationist, naturalist, photographer and writer famous for killing a large number of man-eating tigers and leopards that had killed people in the villages of the Garhwal and Kumaon regions in India.

According to Wikipedia, though Jim Corbett held the rank of colonel in the British Indian Army and worked for the Bengal and North Western Railway, often he was called upon by the government to slay man-eating tigers and leopards. According to records, between 1907 and 1938 Corbett had shot dead man-eaters such as the Champawat Tiger, the Leopard of Rudraprayag, the Tigers of Chowgarh and the Panar Leopard. These man-eating big cats, 19 tigers and 14 leopards, had killed more than 1200 men, women and children.

As he had great admiration for tigers and leopards, he resolved never to shoot them unless they turned man-eaters or posed threats otherwise. However, by his own account, Corbett had shot the wrong animal at least once, and he greatly regretted the incident. Man-eaters are quite capable of stalking the hunter. So Corbett preferred to hunt alone travelling on foot while pursuing dangerous game. At times, Corbett took dangerous personal risks to save the lives of others.

Corbett was deeply concerned about the fate of tigers and their habitat. So he used to lecture to groups of school children about natural heritage, the need to conserve forests and wildlife. Along with F. W. Champion he played a key role in establishing India's first national park, the Hailey National Park in the Kumaon Hills. Later the park was renamed in his honour as Corbett National Park by the Indian government in 1957.

In 1968, one of the five remaining subspecies of tigers, the Indochinese Tiger, which was also called Corbett's tiger, was named after him as Panthera tigris corbetti. The famous books written by Corbett are: Man-eaters of Kumaon, The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, My India, Jungle Lore, The Temple Tiger and more man-eaters of Kumaon, Man against man-eaters, and Tree Tops.

After 1947, Corbett and his sister Maggie retired to Nyeri, Kenya, where he continued to write and sound alarm about declining numbers of jungle cats and other wildlife. After retirement, Corbett authored the Man-Eaters of Kumaon, Jungle Lore and other books recounting his hunts and experiences. He also advocated for the protection India's wildlife from extinction.

Jim Corbett died of a heart attack after he finished writing his sixth book Tree Tops, and was buried at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Nyeri.

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