Title: Man-Eaters of Kumaon
Author: Jim Corbett
Format Read: Paperback
“While looking at the leg I had forgotten all about the tigress until I suddenly felt that I was in great danger.”
– Jim Corbett in ‘Man-Eaters of Kumaon’
A British hunter and conservationist, Jim Corbett (1875-1955) was instrumental in the creation of the tiger reserve in Uttarakhand, India, the Jim Corbett National Park. He was also, as his writings show, a keen tracker of man-eaters and a prolific writer. The anecdotes in the book took place in the first half of the twentieth century.
“Man-Eaters of Kumaon” is probably his best known work, and as the title suggests, this is a book about the hunter Corbett on the trail of man-eating tigers. Some of these animals had kill counts in the hundreds, terrorized villagers, and left a trail of destruction and fear in their wake. These were, from the accounts of Corbett, highly intelligent creatures that waited for the perfect moment to strike.
Corbett’s view of the villagers, their lives and customs, and his commentary on their beliefs do not come across as supercilious in “Man-Eaters of Kumaon” unlike several other colonial writings of the time. He appears to understand that Hindus cremate their dead and tries to find the bodies of victims killed by the tigers. He offers insights into the habits of man-eating tigers and why they become man-eaters in the first place. He recounts his efforts to track the tigers and notices the unusual way they hunt. His account in ‘The Chowgarh Tigers’ is particularly eerie, where a tigress and her cub hunt as a pair. And the Champawat man-eater, Corbett says, reportedly killed 436 people.
Nearly all of his short essays in “Man-Eaters of Kumaon” are about actual man-eaters. The exception being ‘The Bachelor of Powalgarh’ which was, frankly, a disturbing recollection of big game trophy hunting.
My favourite piece in this book is naturally the short essay titled ‘Robin.’ Robin was Jim Corbett’s dog, a little animal that Corbett chanced upon quite unexpectedly. Robin was a happy and faithful companion on Corbett’s adventures, a dog who quickly learned how to accompany his human on hunting quests.
Corbett takes pains to elaborate his hunting process and does not hide the fact that these tigers terrified him as much as they frightened their victims. Man-eaters are intelligent creatures that have strayed from their normal diets to feast on humans, and that is not natural, as Corbett explains. Almost all of these tigers were also, he remarks dryly, well nourished.
“Man-Eaters of Kumaon” is a very well written, highly readable work that explores the techniques of a hunter on the trail of other hunters in the wild.