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Jim Corbett (1875–1955)

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Hunter of man-eating tigers, photographer, conservationist and author, Jim Corbett was born in Nainital of English and Irish parentage. A childhood spent around the Corbett winter home of Kaladhungi (halfway between Nainital and Ramnagar) brought young Jim into close communion with nature and to an instinctive understanding of jungle ways. After working on the railways, he joined the Indian army in 1917 at the age of forty, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and seeing action in Flanders at the head of the 70th Kumaon Company.

Known locally as “Carpet Sahib”, a mispronunciation of his name, Jim Corbett was called upon time and time again to rid the hills of Kumaon of man-eating tigers and leopards. Normally shy of human contact, such animals become man-eaters when infirmity brought upon by old age or wounds renders them unable to hunt their usual prey. Many of those killed by Corbett were found to have suppurating wounds caused by porcupine quills embedded deep in their paws; tigers always seem to fall for the porcupine’s simple defensive trick of walking backwards in line with its lethal quills.

One of Corbett’s most memorable exploits was the killing of the Champawat tiger, which was responsible for a documented 436 human deaths, and was bold enough to steal its victims from the midst of human habitation. By the mid-1930s, though, Corbett had become dismayed with the increasing number of hunters in the Himalayas and the resultant decline in wildlife, and diverted his energies into conservation, swapping his gun for a movie camera and spending months capturing tigers on film. His adventures are described in books such as My India, Jungle Lore and Man-Eaters of Kumaon; Martin Booth’s Carpet Sahib is an excellent biography of a remarkable man. Unhappy in post-Independence India, Jim Corbett retired to East Africa, where he continued his conservation efforts until his death at the age of eighty.

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