THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN NRI ACHIEVERS’ JULY-2016 EDITION
This month, we celebrate the birthday of a fearless hunter, who turned into a saviour for tigers in India. I came across this story while I was sitting on the shore of Kosi River of Uttarakhand.
Few days back, I went to Namah Resorts in Dhikuli, Jim Corbett Park. I was interested in the lost temple of Vairapattana, which was supposed to be around this resort. I stayed there for few days, enjoyed the impeccable hospitality, and kept enquiring about the lost Shiva Temple. They pointed me to a direction and surprisingly, at mere 300 steps, I found the remains of Ancient Shiva Temple. My mission was complete, but during my discussions with staff and naturists at this resort, I learned few more things about the area.
One of the resident experts at Namah Resort asked me, if I know about Jim Corbett. I replied with a smile, “Yes! You made us interact with Mr. Imran Khan, the best known naturists in Jim Corbett National Park. He told us everything about flora and fauna.” He continued, ‘No Sir, I meant, James Edward Corbett’. I was quite. I have heard of him, but why is this gentleman emphasising so much. He praised Corbett and we retired to our room appreciating the spectacular sunset view across Kosi river. As I reached my room, I started reading about Colonel James Edward Corbett of the British India Army. By this time, Namah team sent me a wonderful Mocktail as reward for participating in one of their contests. Sipping this mocktail in the balcony of my cottage, I paid my homage to Google Baba and got started.
Colonel Corbett was born in Nainital in 1875 to the postmaster of Nainital, William Christopher Corbett. He spent his entire childhood in the region. During winters, the James Corbett with his other 15 siblings and parents used to stay in their family home downhill, what we now know as Corbett’s Village or Kaladhungi. After schooling, he was employed by Railways. He was so well versed with the jungle, that he could identify most animals and birds by the sounds they make. Soon, he became famous as the hunter, who would save locals from man eating tigers and leopards. His most famous kill was the tiger known as Bachelor of Powalgarh. Powalgarh is a connected reserve near Ramnagar. We were taken to Powalgarh the next day to show the site, where Corbett killed this tiger. We also have the largest tree trunk of this region in the vicinity. Corbett wrote a book titled ‘Man Eaters of Kumaon’. He mentions of several kills that he made and how he accomplished those victories. Interestingly, the only one to accompany him was his favourite dog ‘Robin’. His expeditions were all on foot. His book talks about the strategies he made to hunt man eaters in Champawat, Thak, Muktesar, Chowgarh, Rudraprayag, Kanda, Pipalpani and many more. The Panar Leopard was known to have killed as many as 400 people, before being slayed by Corbett.
When Corbett analysed his kills, he found out that most of the man eaters had porcupine quills embedded deep in their feet. Some even had un-healed gunshot wounds. While I was discussing this with our nature expert at the Namah Resort, he explained that years of research has revealed that porcupine is the most common reason for tiger’s pain, unrest and forcing him to target slow moving targets like humans. Jim Corbett, when realized this, turned into a saviour of animals. He bought a camera and started filming tigers. I met James Champion a while back. He is son of Frederick Walter Champion, companion of Jim Corbett in his expeditions to understand and save tigers. He gave me few insights on how Corbett turned into a conservationist and led campaigns to protect tigers. Corbett and Champion established India’s first nature reserve, the Hailey National Park in 1936. It was named after Lord Hailey, governor of United Provinces (now Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh) from 1928 to 1934. His efforts laid the foundation of Project Tiger of Government of India, which helped us realize the reducing number of tigers and forced to take measures to save them. Today, his Hailey National Park covers 520 square kilometres of hill area near Nainital (Originally it was 323 sq. Km). It houses around 110 tree species, 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species. Initially, the proposal was to make it a Game Reserve, where British could come and enjoy hunting as a sport, while animals move freely. Princely state of Tehri Garhwal had already cleared most of this forest to save from invading Rohillas. When land came completely under British and restoring forest was underway, Jim Corbett played an important role to ensure that it stays as a Nature Reserve and not a Game Reserve. He emphasized on protecting the Tigers. He told, how careless hunting activities are turning tigers into man-eaters. His efforts were fruitful and the park was established. Later, in 1954 it was renamed as Ramganga National Park. But within 3 years, the Independent Indian Government gave credit to Jim Corbett and renamed this oldest national park of India as ‘Jim Corbett National Park’.
Until 1947, Corbett and his sister lived in Gurney house in Nainital. The house was sold to Mr. Sharad Prasad Varma, which is now passed to his granddaughter Ms. Nilanjana Dalmia. Corbetts retired to Kenya, where Jim Corbett kept working hard to protect the wildlife. He was escorting Princess Elizabeth of England during her Kenya visit and they were staying in Tree Tops Hotel when King Geroge VI passed away. Next morning, when Elizabeth was told about this incident, she came down from Tree Tops and left for England as a Queen. Corbett wrote the famous lines that day in the visitor log book of Tree Tops:
For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree the next day a Queen—God bless her.
He passed away on 19th April, 1955. We celebrate Corbett’s 231st birthday this 25th July.
– Vikramjit Singh Rooprai