New Delhi: The Champawat man-eater finds primary mention in James Edward Corbett’s first book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon. The deadly animal, later discovered to be a tigress, had instilled fear so deep in the hearts of the people of Kumaon in Uttarakhand that even basic sanitation in their village was lacking.
The tigress reached Kumaon from Nepal as a full-fledged man-eater with a death count of 234 and rising.
Corbett had hunted many tigers, but this was his first time killing a man-eater. After many days of tracking, he chanced upon the tigress while she was devouring her 436th and last prey — a 16-year-old girl.
He wrote in his book, “The track of the tigress was clearly visible. On one side of it were great splashes of blood where the girl’s head hung down, and on the other side the trail of her feet.”
Corbett spent four hours following the tigress, but couldn’t get a good shot. Soon, he had lost daylight. The following day, along with the help of 298 villagers, Corbett killed the tigress with three gunshots.
It was later discovered that her teeth were broken, forcing her to eat human flesh, and thus confirming Corbett’s theory that the species are not inherently man-eaters. This understanding of the difference, and his ability to be both a hunter and conservation champion, is what Corbett came to be known for.
Hunter with a heart
James Edward Corbett, more popularly remembered as Jim Corbett, was born in Nainital, Uttarakhand, on 25 July 1875. His father was a postmaster and mother, an influential quasi real estate agent. Corbett grew up in the jungles of Uttarakhand and spent most of his childhood exploring the wilderness. Such experience and his exceptional observational skills guided him to become a hunter of man-eating tigers and leopards.
His love for nature and wildlife shone through as he strongly supported the All-India Conference for the Preservation of Wildlife. He was especially fond of tigers and pulled all strings possible to create a national reserve for endangered Bengal tigers.
An avid photographer and author, he penned many books recounting his hunting days.
His contribution to wildlife and nature was acknowledged when two years after his death in 1955, India’s first national park was renamed after him. Today, Jim Corbett National Park is a premier spot for sighting of big cats.
On Corbett’s 144th birth anniversary, here’s a look at how human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction still threaten the existence of tigers, despite conservation efforts.
Overall negligence for wildlife laws
In 2006, the tiger count in India hit an all-time low of 1,411. Since then, various conservation projects and wildlife protection initiatives by the central government have contributed to a steady increase in their numbers.
A 2014 report on Status of Tigers in India pegged the figure at 2,226.
The 2018 status report is still awaited, with ‘new methods’ being cited as the reason behind the delay. The report was supposed to come out after the formation of the new government.
Tiger deaths mainly occur due to poaching, habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict. Earlier this month, just outside the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, a tigress and her two cubs were poisoned by villagers for killing their cattle.
This happened after the tigress crossed the boundary of the reserve. The problem is that the increase in tiger population in a limited area has led to a spillover effect. Tadoba is one such place. The growing number of tigers causes territorial battles between old tigers and new ones, forcing the new lot to move out.
While the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 punishes those who kill animals, still there have been numerous cases of tiger killings in which no accused has been proven to be guilty.
There also exists an overall negligence when it comes to laws on wildlife and its habitats. The Bandipur forest fire in Karnataka earlier this year, which destroyed thousands of hectares of forest cover, reveals the incompetence of the authorities and their reluctance to deal with such crises.
In 2004, the Chinese medicine scandal broke out, and tigers were hunted and snared in large numbers, but officials refused to take it up seriously.
Conservationist and author Valmik Thapar told ThePrint, “Political will during Indira Gandhi’s time and now is what is the difference. She had the passion to protect tigers that no politician has today.”
Thapar said that it is necessary to include and involve younger folk, who have studied this field, in decision-making. Stressing on the need for lateral entry in the forest system, he added, “The government should have only a small footprint in the initiative to protect tigers.”
Tourism can help, if done right
Wildlife tourism, if done correctly, can be conducive to protecting wildlife.
Thapar cited the example of Africa as a great case study on how to monetise wildlife successfully and said, “It is the only means to get revenues. We have to understand that tourism is not a disturbance.”
In Man-Eaters of Kumaon, Corbett wrote, “A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage…when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”
Today, those words couldn’t be truer.