Even as saviour of the lives several hapless villagers from man-eaters turned him into a hero, it is his respect for the big cats and holistic understanding of nature and wildlife that exhibited the humane aspect of this hero’s personality that enriched and fortified the legend known as Jim Corbett.
Corbett developed an easy rapport at a very young age with wildlife as he grew up around the forests of Kumaon. Early in life, the young Corbett could identify the calls of various birds and animals – a skill that was to prove very handy to the wildlife enthusiast.
Corbett never advocated hunting as a sport or used it to accumulate material gains. This was largely because of his compassion for the poor of India who he considered as his friends describing them in his book My India as people “among whom I have lived and whom I love”. This compassion extended to his conviction that the man-eaters’ crimes were “not against the laws of nature” “but against the laws of man” and pushed him to look for reasons for the tiger turning into a man eater. In most cases it was either a wound or incapacity by old age that turned a big cat a man eater in desperation.
In the 1920s, skills of this naturalist turned to be a boon for the world of wildlife photography even as it emerged that Corbett was as adept at shooting with the camera as with the rifle. Ever concerned about the disappearing forests and wildlife, Corbett often gave lectures to school children highlighting the need to conserve wildlife. A prolific writer, Corbett authored six books, the most famous being the Man-eaters of Kumaon. During his post-retirement years, since 1947 in Kenya, his concern for wildlife protection continued to be expressed through his writings.
Corbett’s legacy lives on as the national park in Uttarakhand was renamed after him as the Jim Corbett National Park in 1957. His love affair with the big cat culminated with a sub specie of tiger named after him – The Panthera Tigris Corbetti.