He was a Britisher through ancestry but was born and brought up in India and his lifelong contributions to this country through his work makes us feature him in the list of extraordinary Indians. He was Edward James Corbett popular to the world as Jim Corbett. He was a noted hunter and naturalist and also author of several books. He served as a Colonel in the British Army but spent a significant portion of his life in hunting man-eating leopards and tigers, which were causing havoc by killing people in the villages of Kumaon and Garhwal regions.
He was born to Christopher William Corbett and Mary Jane on 25th August 1875 at Nainital, where his father served as the postmaster. His mother was also a very influential person and was largely responsible for arranging accommodation for European settlers in that region. He was the eighth amongst sixteen children.
Jim Corbett was attracted to nature and animals from a very early age – he had the gift of identifying all animals and birds by just listening to their calls. This helped immensely in making him one of the best hunters and trackers during those times.
In the period between 1907 and 1938, Corbett tracked and killed 14 leopards and 19 tigers, which were collectively responsible for causing the deaths of an estimated 1,200 people. Some of his notable hunts include:
- The Champawat Tigress, killed in 1907, which was responsible for 200 human deaths.
- The Panar Leopard, killed in 1910, which had allegedly killed more than 400 people.
- Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, killed in 1925, responsible for killing 125 villagers.
- Talla-Das Man-eating tiger, killed in 1929, which had killed 150 persons.
- The Mohan Man-eater
- Thak Man-eating Tigress, killed in 1938, which went on to become his last hunt.
Corbett did not kill for sport. Even after killing all the man-eaters, he carefully studied their carcasses. This made him conclude that all the animals that turned man-eaters were suffering from inflicted, untreated wound or some disease that diminished their abilities to normally hunt for their natural prey. These wounds could have been a result of carelessly fired gunshots by other hunters, who would have not been able to kill the prey and just wounded them, resulting in their turning into man-eaters. This made him realize the need for Animal Conservation and paved the way for the setting up of the Hailey National Park in 1936, which post his death in 1955, was renamed in his honour as Jim Corbett National Park in the year 1957.
Corbett was not just a reputed hunter and even better conservationist – he was a splendid writer and captured all the memoirs of his hunting expeditions, which became popular books that are still widely read by all. Some of his famous books include Jungle Stories (1935), Man Eaters of Kumaon (1944), The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (1947) and many more.
Corbett remained a bachelor throughout his life. Post-independence in November 1947, he and his sister Maggie Corbett sold their home in India ‘Gurney House’ and retired to Kenya, where he continued his writing. His house was later on converted to the “Jim Corbett Museum”. On 19th April 1955, he breathed his last after suffering from a cardiac arrest.
Let us pay our rich tributes to Jim Corbett on his 145th Birth Anniversary – He may not have been an ‘Indian’ through his ancestral roots but his service to this nation and its people and animals, makes him no less an Indian than all the legends, whose services to the nation are appreciated and hailed through this column.