Hunters remembered: Jim Corbett

Jim_Corbett01Jim Corbett’s .275 rifle is currently on display at John Rigby HQ in London. Here’s Sporting Rifle’s account of Corbett’s life as told through our Hunters Remembered column…

Lieutenant Colonel Edward James ‘Jim’ Corbett was born 25 July 1875 in Nainital, India and died 19 April 1955 in Nyeri, Kenya. He was a legendary British big game hunter turned conservationist, and bestselling author. He gained fame throughout the British Empire for his prowess at hunting large numbers of man-eating tigers and leopards terrorising Indian villages, and pilgrim routes.

He tracked and shot a total of 33 man-eaters between 1907 and 1938. Most were tigers with the exception of two notable man-eating leopards. It is claimed that these big cats had killed more than 1,600 men, women and children. His first man-eater was the Champawat Tiger, which was actually responsible for 436 of the documented deaths. Other notable man-eaters he killed were the Talla-Des man-eater, the Mohan man-eater, the Thak man-eater, the Mukteshwar man-eater and the Chowgarh tigress.

The two leopards he stamped deceased also chalked up a significant tally of the local populace. First was the Panar Leopard in 1910, which allegedly killed 400 people. The second was the man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag in 1926 that terrorised pilgrims on the way to the holy Hindu shrines Kedarnath and Badrinath for more than eight years, claiming responsibility for more than 126 deaths. This cunning cat nearly killed Corbett by repeatedly attacking and shaking the tree in which he was waiting in ambush. Fortunately, as an afterthought Corbett had lashed great swaths of thorns to the trunk before ascending the machan (high seat). The thorns dissuaded the killer from following Corbett into the branches. Needless to say the colonel spent a worrying few hours in the darkness praying for dawn as the angry feline vented its rage.

Corbett held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the British Indian Army, and fought in both world wars. He also trained troops for the army in jungle warfare and was accorded several honours and campaign medals. His hunting successes earned him long-standing respect and fame. Indeed many of the locals actually considered him a sadhu (saint) as Corbett took great personal risks to follow up the shaitan (devil) cats to save lives and livelihoods.

Powalgarh02He authored Man-Eaters of Kumaon, More Man-Eaters of Kumaon, The Temple Tiger, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, Jungle Lore and Tree Tops. They were acclaimed and a great commercial success – his six books have never been out of print.

Later in life, Corbett became a great conservationist, and played a key role in creating a national reserve for the endangered Bengal tiger. In 1957 the national park was renamed Jim Corbett National Park in his honour.

After 1947, Corbett retired to Kenya, and continued to write and lobby for nature conservation. He was at the famous Tree Tops, a guest house built on the branches of a giant ficus tree, when Princess Elizabeth stayed there on 5-6 February 1952. During the night her father King George VI died, and 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 next day a Queen – God bless her.

Corbett died of a heart attack a few days after he finished his sixth book, Tree Tops, and was buried at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Nyeri, Kenya.




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