James Edward Corbett
1875 – 1955
About James Edward Corbett
James Edward Corbett was born in Nainital, Kumaon district of Uttarakhand on July 25th, 1875. He grew up in a large family of 13 children and was the eighth child to his parents, William Christopher and Mary Jane Corbett.
From a very young age, James Edward Corbett was fascinated by the forests and wildlife around his home in Kaladhungi. It was then that he grew an interest in animals, and identified most of them, including birds, just by their calls. This turned him into an excellent tracker and hunter.
James Edward Corbett held the rank of Colonel in the British Indian Army and was frequently called upon by the Government of the United Provinces, now the Indian States of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, to kill man-eating tigers and leopards that were preying on people in the nearby villages of Garhwal and Kumaon regions.
Between the years 1907 and 1938, James Edward Corbett is known to have tracked and shot 19 tigers and 4 leopards, a total of 33 man-eaters. It was also estimated that these big cats had killed more than 1200 people.
While his infamous stories of the Champawat Tiger and Leopard of Rudraprayag still make their rounds, in his omnibus, James Edward Corbett states the importance of understanding why these animals develop man-eating tendencies. James Edward Corbett says;
“A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through the stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it. The stress of circumstances is nine out of ten times, wounds, and in the tenth case, old age.”
“A tiger when killing its natural prey, which it does either by stalking or lying in wait for it, depends on the success of its attack on its speed and, to a lesser extent, on the condition of teeth and claws. When, therefore, a tiger is suffering from one or more painful wounds, or when its teeth are missing or defective and its claws are worn down and it is unable to catch the animals it has been accustomed to eating, it is driven by necessity to killing human beings.”
This deep understanding of tigers and their behavior, made James Edward Corbett realize their significance in the forest food chain and the need to conserve them rather than hunt them. James Edward Corbett adds in his book;
“A tiger’s function in the scheme of things is to help maintain the balance in nature and if on rare occasions when driven by dire necessity, he kills a human being, or when his natural food has been ruthlessly exterminated by the man he kills two percent of the cattle he is alleged to have killed, it is not fair that for these acts a whole species should be branded as being cruel and bloodthirsty.”
Growing awareness of the need to conserve India’s finest Fauna, James Edward Corbett went on to author Jungle Stories, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, Jungle Lore, The Temple Tiger and more man eaters of Kumaon, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag et al, and the latest, My Kumaon: Uncollected Writings, published in the year 2012. The famous jungle Corbett National Park is also named after him and his stories that continue to echo in the Kumaon Himalayas.