Jan 23, 2009

Man-Eaters of Kumaon

by Jim Corbett

Jim Corbett was a sportsman famous for hunting down man-eating tigers in India between 1910 and 1938; often the government implored him to rid certain areas of a tiger that had been terrorizing the people for years. Some villages were so devastated by tiger predation that the entire population had abandoned their homes. In his pursuit of tigers, Corbett traveled on foot to many remote areas, taking teams of men to assist him. If it came to stalking a tiger on foot through the jungle, he usually did that solo, and explains why it was actually safer that way. One chapter describes his hunting dog Robin, and how it helped him to track tigers. Although the reading is often quite dry (the author's main profession was a hunter, not a writer) the accounts are full of fascinating details. Corbett describes much of his hunting lore: what information he could glean about the tigers from villagers' accounts and inspecting tracks, abandoned kills and other signs the big cats left behind; how his understanding of a tiger's habits enabled him to plan his encounters with them; how he could learn of a tiger's whereabouts by observing the behavior of other jungle animals; how he could lure the beast right to him by imitating tiger calls. He also explains why most tigers became man-eaters, usually from injuries that kept them from hunting their normal prey, and debunks some misconceptions about them. The descriptions of close encounters with tigers, whether Corbett's own cautious and carefully executed maneuvers or an ordinary villager's act of bravery, are truly hair-raising.

Even though Corbett was using his skills to hunt down man-eating tigers, he was not one who enjoyed hunting for the sake of killing. He was a naturalist, and spent just as much time tracking tigers to simply observe their behavior, photograph or film them. He writes of their beauty and power with respect. He shares observations of many other kinds of wildlife, including encounters with leopards and snakes, and one whole chapter is just about a day spent fly-fishing on a jungle stream. Man-Eaters of Kumaon is an intriguing book. It appears to have been written near the end of his career, and I'm curious to see if I can find some of the earlier volumes Corbett wrote about his experiences.

Rating: 3/5                  233 pages, 1946

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