There are relatively few tigers left in the world today; but, a hundred years ago, there were individual tigers who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of villagers in the northwest Indian region of Kumaon, just west of Nepal. Perhaps the most famous of the “white hunters” of these man-eating tigers was Edward James Corbett, better known as Jim Corbett (1875-1955).
Now what am I doing talking about a killer of endangered tigers? Surprisingly, Corbett himself was a naturalist:
A tiger’s function in the scheme of things is to help maintain the balance in nature and if, on rare occasions, when driven by dire necessity, he kills a human being or when his natural food has been ruthlessly exterminated by man he kills two percent of the cattle he is alleged to have killed, it is not fair that for these acts a whole species should be branded as being cruel or bloodthirsty.
Corbett is as famous for photographing and preserving the tiger population as he is for hunting them. In the introduction to his most famous book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, he writes:
When, therefore, a tiger is suffering from one or more painful wounds, or when its teeth or missing or defective and its claws worn down, and it is unable to catch the animals it has been accustomed to eating, it is driven by necessity to killing human beings.
I was surprised how well-written his book is. He is able to produce an elegant word picture of the circumstances of each hunt. Because of the strength and agility even of man-eating tigers, one rarely has time to reload if one misses. Even if he shoots his prey in the head, the tiger can survive long enough to make a meal of his hunter.
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