I’m currently in the midst of reading James Edward Corbett a.k.a Jim Corbett’s famous omnibus, which houses memorable accounts of his encounters with ferocious man-eaters in the Uttarakhand region.
The 1900s took on a nightmarish reality to the simple folk of the villages of Uttarakhand. The period between the early 1900s and the late 1930s saw thousands of innocent people fall victim to man-eating carnivores. The Government of Uttarakhand sanctioned expert marksman Jim Corbett with the task of ridding the villages of these ferocious beasts.
While Corbett accepted the request, he did so on two conditions:
- He would not accept any monetary or non-monetary compensation or “trophy” for the kills
- He would not entertain any trophy hunter, expert or otherwise, to be present in the same area while he was hunting the man-eaters.
Over the span of 30 years, Corbett managed to successfully locate and kill 16 tigers and 19 leopards that were terrorizing the villages in and around the state of Uttarakhand. Single-handedly, Jim Corbett managed to save the locals from the mercy of dangerous predators while protecting these very animals from the hands of greedy trophy hunters.
A Large-hearted Gentleman with Boundless Courage
In his book, The Man-Eating Tigers of Kumaon, Corbett describes the tiger as “a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage”, whose natural prey isn’t humans. He goes on to say that the tiger (in fact, every animal that becomes a man-eater) is “compelled through stress of circumstances beyond its control to adopt a diet alien to it. The stress is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case, old age.” His love for the striped beasts is evident in his writing. It is clear that Corbett, who was a hunter and a marksman, turned away from trophy hunting and took up his hunting assignments only to help the poor and isolated villagers in the Uttarakhand region.
A Gift from the Government, a Lifelong Companion
The man-eater of Champawat was Corbett’s first assignment. The tigress had been driven out of Nepal by the Nepalese army after having killed over 200 people. Forced out of her established territory, the tigress arrived in Kumaon, where she added a whopping 234 more victims to her list. By the time Corbett arrived, she was already at her 235th.
Spending weeks in the freezing jungles of Kumaon, Corbett finally managed to kill the man-eater. By now, after a terrorizing rule of 4 years, the Champawat man-eater had added 346 people to her kills in Kumaon.
As a thank-you for ridding them of this menace, the Government of Uttarakhand gifted Corbett a beautiful, hand-crafted .275 Rigby rifle; one that would turn out to be his lifelong companion.
Near the end of his career, Jim Corbett established the Hailey National Park, which was renamed the Corbett National Park in 1957. A lover of animals, Corbett drafted rules that prohibited big game hunting in the region of Uttarakhand, as a result, saving the lives of countless animals. He reminded trophy hunters, animal conservationists and Government officials everywhere that big game hunting should only be taken up in extreme cases where lives are at stake.
After setting up the National Park, Corbett hung-up his hunting rifle and took to a life of photography and writing. Today, the .275 Rigby rifle is a symbol of conservation.
The Rigby Brought to Life
Given the symbolism of Corbett’s rifle, it may come as a surprise to many when in 2015 at the 44th convention of the Safari Club International (one of the biggest hunting clubs in the USA), a replica made in memory of Corbett’s .275 Rigby rifle was showcased for five long days, where it served as the big-draw for trophy hunters and big game hunters. The weapon was advertised as one of the best hunting rifles in the world and was sold to an anonymous buyer for $250,000.
John Rigby and Co., the manufacturers of the iconic rifle and one of the sponsors of the display at the convention, acquired the original weapon for an undisclosed sum. Corbett’s rifle was then taken on a world tour and displayed in various similar conventions. Finally, the weapon found its way home – to Corbett National Park. The rifle will remain in Chotti Haldwani village for the next 10 days.
Jim Corbett, in his regulations, has laid down strict restrictions regarding the usage and display of weaponry on the Park’s premises. While the organizers are terming the display as an attempt “to create an awareness for wildlife conservation and propagating the vision of Jim Corbett”, they are clearly disregarding the rules and beliefs of the Park’s founder.
The company also wants to work towards “the protection of hunters’ freedoms globally”. While their intentions are turning heads in India, in other parts of the world, their desire for hunters’ freedom is coming true.
At the 43rd Safari Club International convention, over 20,000 hunters reportedly applied for special rights to hunt 317 animals worldwide; an application that was granted. The group brought in $2.7 million from the auction of 317 kills.
On a normal day, the attendees of the convention are granted access to hunt from a pick of approximately 600 animals from across 32 countries. When special requests such as the 317 hunts are authorized, there is no room left for conservation.
Add to this the display of Corbett’s symbol of conservation as a badge for trophy hunting and you have people actively promoting big game hunting and trophy hunting in the name of a man who spent his life protecting these very creatures.
Events such as these actively encourage people to take up hunting as a sport and a profession. The killings of Cecil the lion and Harambe the gorilla are seen as harmless and helpful, even.
While organizers claim that these events help raise money for conservation of endangered species, it doesn’t hide the underlying barbarity. At the end of the day, one animal has to die for another to live.
When mass-murder of animals is condoned by official institutions, it leaves all the work done by activists and conservationists like Jim Corbett undone.
Corbett created Chotti Haldwani, a village that is the model example of how man and beast can co-exist peacefully. He set up India’s very first tiger reserve and triggered the country’s culture of conservation. He wrote books that both inspired and educated millions about these stigmatized animals. It’s a shame that such a man’s name has been flung in the mud by the makers of the very rifle that saved countless lives, human and animal.