Most people know Jim Corbett from his writings as a famous hunter who became the nemesis of many notorious man-eaters. The lucid accounts of his exploits that he has given in his books generate as much excitement in people’s mind as they did when they were written. But besides being an articulate writer and accomplished hunter, Jim was a naturalist and conservationist, and a humble man. A true son-of-the-soil, Jim was born in Nainital on 25th July, 1875. He grew up in Kaladhungi and Nainital, spending much of his childhood exploring the wilderness that lay around. It was here that he developed a deep knowledge of the way of the jungle.
At an early age Jim was faced with the responsibility of supporting his family of six members so he took up a job with the Railways. This was followed by a stint in the Army in World War-I. Afterwards, Jim, a confirmed bachelor, lived in Kaladhungi and Nainital with his sister, Maggie. This was the period when he was summoned many-a-time by villagers and the government to get rid of man-eating tigers or leopards. But more than a hunter Jim was a wonderful naturalist. He had an excellent observation, was fleet-footed, and had great stamina. While moving in the forests he put all his senses – sight, hearing, smelling and unparalleled knowledge of the tract – to intelligent use. This way he could read the signs of the forests and predict movement of wildlife.
Jim was also a pioneer conservationist and was responsible for demarcating the area for the present-day Corbett National Park. He remained an active member of many wildlife preservation organisations and helped popularise natural history through his writing.Jim Corbett's house at Kaladhungi is now a museum. Not many people know that Jim was also an avid photographer and film-maker. He was one of the first persons to capture Indian wildlife on motion film and during his career obtained some rare and interesting footage.
Unlike most other Britishers living in India, Jim blended well with the local populace. He ate their food, spoke their language, lived with them, and was sensitive to their culture and religious beliefs. However, soon after Independence he distributed his land and property to his associates and migrated to Kenya, where he spent the rest of his life. Jim’s house at Kaladhungi, 28 km from Corbett National Park on the motorway to Nainital, is now a museum that attracts many of his admirers from far and wide. This museum is managed under the Uttaranchal Forest Department by Corbett Tiger Reserve. Even in these times Jim Corbett continues to create a fascination for Nature and all things wild. Jim’s legacy lives on through his books, articles, films, and in the National Park named in his honour.
Edward James Corbett was born of Irish ancestry in the town of Nainital in the Kumaon of the Himalaya (now in the Indian state of Uttarakhand). Jim grew up in a large family of 13 children and was the eighth child of Willam Christopher and Mary Jane Corbett. His parents had moved to Nainital in 1862, after Christopher Corbett had been appointed postmaster of the town. In winters, the family used to move to the foothills, where they owned a cottage named 'Arundel' in Chhoti Haldwani or 'Corbett's Village' now known as Kaladhungi. After his father's death, when Jim was 4 years old, his eldest brother Tom took over as the postmaster of Nainital. From a very young age, Jim was fascinated by the forests and the wildlife around his home in Kaladhungi. At a young age he learned to identify most animals and birds by their calls - owing to his frequent excursions. Over time he became a good tracker and hunter. Jim studied at the Oak Openings School, later merged with Philander Smith College in Nainital. Before he was 19, he quit school and found employment with the Bengal and North Western Railway, initially working as a fuel inspector at Manakpur in the Punjab, and subsequently as a contractor for the trans-shipment of goods across the Ganges at Mokameh Ghat in Bihar.
Between 1907 and 1938, Corbett tracked and shot a documented 19 tigers and 14 leopards — a total of 33 recorded and documented man-eaters. It is estimated that these big cats had killed more than 1,200 men, women and children. The first tiger he killed, the Champawat Tiger in Champawat, was responsible for 436 documented deaths. He also shot the Panar Leopard, which allegedly killed 400 people. This leopard's skull and dentition showed advanced, debilitating gum disease and tooth decay, such as would limit the animal in killing wild game and drive it towards man-eating. 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.
After 1947, Corbett and his sister Maggie retired to Nyeri, Kenya, where he continued to write and sound the alarm about declining numbers of jungle cats and other wildlife. Jim Corbett was at the Tree Tops Hotel, a hut built on the branches of a giant ficus tree, when Princess Elizabeth stayed there on February 5–6, 1952, at the time of the death of her father, King George VI. Corbett wrote in the hotel's visitors' register: 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. Jim Corbett died of a heart attack a few days after he finished writing his sixth book Tree Tops, and was buried at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Nyeri.
Jim Corbett National Park