On 25th July, Edward James ‘Jim’ Corbett was born in Nainital. Corbett was a bold hunter who worked alone and yet shot a total of 33 man-eating tigers and leopards. He was able to identify animals and birds by their calls. He also wrote a best-seller 'Man-Eaters of Kumoan’. He was also a pioneering conservationist and is honoured today by the Corbett National Park, India’s first national park.
Childhood of Jim Corbett
Corbett was born on July 25, 1875 in the town of Nainital in the Kumaon region of the Himalaya (now Uttarakhand). He grew up in a large family of sixteen children and was the eighth child in the family.
His parents had moved to Nainital in 1862, after his father was appointed the town's postmaster. In winters the family used to move to the foothills, where they owned a cottage named 'Arundel' in "Corbett's Village". His mother was very influential in Nainital social life among Europeans and she was sort of a real estate agent for European settlers.
From a very early age the forests and wildlife around his home fascinated Jim. Through frequent excursions he learned to identify most animals and birds by their calls. Over time he became a good tracker and hunter.
Before he was nineteen he quit school and found employment with the Bengal and North Western Railway.
Why did Jim turn a saviour for the locals?
The childhood of Jim was largely spent in Nainital and Kaladhungi where he was taken care of by his eldest sister. It was she who used to take Jim for stroll in the jungle and that is where Jim Corbett had his first tryst with wildlife. He used to go with a local poacher named Kunwar Singh for adventure hunting in the forest. Kunwar Singh would later become a lifelong friend and advisor of Jim Corbett.
Jim Corbett and other white boys mixed freely with Indian kids in Kaladhungi. They learned several of the local dialects, and became very fluent in them. This would prove very useful later when hunting man-eaters as it allowed him to empathize with stricken villagers in a way that touched them deeply.
He was given an assignment as a Trans-shipment Inspector at Mokameh-Ghat in Bihar. For the next twenty years he remained in this position and managed a large workforce. It was during this time that Corbett became hugely popular as a hunter of Man-eaters.
Whenever a tiger or a leopard became a man-eater and people begged him to help them, He would take leave from work for a few days, and then he would try to track and kill the man-eaters.
Jim's greatest asset was his ability to pursue a man-eater alone and outwit it. Corbett continued to hunt man-eaters till in his late fifties. Later in life, he gave up hunting. He developed an unshakeable faith in the natural world, and became devoted to its protection. It involved an almost spiritual bond with the jungle and its inhabitants.
When did he turn conservationist?
Between 1907 and 1938, Corbett tracked and shot at least 19 tigers and 14 leopards. It is estimated that these big cats had killed more than 1,200 people. The first tiger he killed, the Champawat Tiger, was responsible for 436 documented deaths. He also shot the Panar Leopard, which allegedly killed 400 people. 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.
With so much animal blood on his hands, why is Corbett remembered for conservation?
He believed there are only two permissible reasons for killing wild animals – for food or when they turn man-eaters. Under no other circumstance should they be killed.
His conservation efforts formally started to take form in the 1920’s, with Corbett buying his first camera in the late 1920s and, inspired by his friend Frederick Walter Champion, starting to record tigers on cine film. Although he had an intimate knowledge of the jungle, it was a demanding task to click good pictures, as the animals were exceedingly shy. This sparked his interest in photography and deepened his conviction to engage in conservation efforts.
Corbett took to lecturing groups of schoolchildren about their natural heritage and the need to conserve forests and their wildlife. He promoted the foundation of the Association for the Preservation of Game in the United Provinces and the All-India Conference for the Preservation of Wildlife.
He played a key role in establishing India's first national park, the Hailey National Park, initially named after Lord Malcolm Hailey (a British governor). The park was renamed in Corbett's honour in 1957.
Where did the need for a National Park stem from?
Before the British Rule, the forests of the Jim Corbett National Park were the private property of the local rulers. The ownership would later pass into the British hands, the government paid little or no attention to the upkeep of the forested region. The sole aim was to exploit the natural resources and extract as much profit as possible from the jungle.
In 1907, Sir Michael Keen for the first time referred to the possibility of turning these forests into a sanctuary. But, the proposal was turned down. Later in 1934, Sir Malcolm Hailey, supported the proposal for the sanctuary and wanted the enactment of a law to give it protection.
To overcome the delays that legislation would entail the area was made into a reserve forest by the Chief Conservator of forest. Later, the boundaries of the park were demarcated. In 1936 The United Province national Park Act was enforced and this reserved forest became the first national park of India. And it was named Hailey National Park after its founder Sir, Malcolm Hailey the reserve was renamed in 1954–55 as Ramganga National Park and was again renamed in 1955– 56 as Corbett National Park. The new name honors Jim Corbett, who played a key role in creating the reserve. It was his influence to persuade the provincial government in establishing it.
The year 1973 was a landmark in the field of wildlife preservation. It was in this year that wildlife preservationist and naturalists from around the world launched Project Tiger. This was the biggest environmental conservation project ever undertaken. The Jim Corbett National Park has the distinction of having been chosen the venue for the inauguration of this project.
488 different species of plants have been recorded in the Corbett National Park. There are close to 586 species of resident and migratory birds. The park is home to Bengal tigers, leopards, deer, sloth bears, otters, pangolins, Indian grey mongoose, langurs, owls and many other wildlife species.
Dense moist deciduous forest consists of sal, haldu, peepal, rohini and mango trees. Forest covers almost 73% of the Jim Corbett park, 10% of the area consists of grasslands. It houses around 110 tree species, 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species.
Ecotourism and wildlife preservation is the main focus at this park, which makes it all the more significant and alluring to wildlife lovers. In recent years the number of people coming to the park has increased dramatically. Presently, more than 70,000 visitors come to the park every season.
Corbett National Park comprises 520.8 km2 area of hills, riverine belts, marshy depressions, grasslands and a large lake. The elevation ranges from 1,300 to 4,000 ft.
This park is one of the thirteen protected areas covered by the World Wide Fund For Nature under their Terai Arc Landscape Program. The program aims to protect three of the five terrestrial flagship species, the tiger, the Asian elephant and the great one-horned rhinoceros, by restoring corridors of forest to link 13 protected areas of Nepal and India, to enable wildlife migration.
This article was updated on July 27, 2017