Based at Ramnagar 63km southwest of Nainital, Corbett Tiger Reserve is one of India’s premier wildlife reserves. Established in 1936 by Jim Corbett (among others) as the Hailey National Park, India’s first, and later renamed in his honour, it is one of Himalayan India’s last expanses of wilderness. Almost the entire 1288-square-kilometre park, spread over the foothills of Kumaon, is sheltered by a buffer zone of mixed deciduous and giant sal forests, which provide impenetrable cover for wildlife. The core area of 520 square kilometres at its heart remains out of bounds, and safaris on foot are only permissible in the fringe forests.
Corbett is famous for its big cats, in particular, the tiger – it was the first designated Project Tiger Reserve in 1973 – but its 180 or so tigers are elusive, and sightings are far from guaranteed. Nonetheless, the project has proven more successful in Uttarakhand (both in Corbett and the nearby Rajaji National Park) than in any of its other twenty-odd reserves. While the very survival of the tiger in India remains in serious jeopardy, Corbett does seem to be prioritizing the needs of tigers over those of other wildlife and of tourists. Poaching, however, is not unheard of, though it’s Corbett’s elephants that face the most serious threat.
The reservoir within the park also shelters populations of gharial, a long-snouted, fish-eating crocodile, and maggar, a large marsh crocodile, as well as other reptiles. Jackal are common, and wild boar often run through the camps in the evenings. The grasslands around Dhikala are home to deer species such as the spotted chital, hog and barking deer and the larger sambar, while rhesus and common langur, the two main classes of Indian monkey, are both abundant, and happy to provide in-camp entertainment. Bird life ranges from water birds such as the pied kingfisher to birds of prey, including the crested serpent eagle and the Himalayan grey-headed fishing eagle. Late spring (April–June) is the best time to see wildlife, when low water levels force animals into the open. Of the camp’s five zones, by far the best one for sighting big game is the picturesque Dhikala camp, deep into the park near the reservoir.Read More
Jim Corbett (1875–1955)
Jim Corbett (1875–1955)
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 just outside Kaladhungi (29km southeast of Ramnagar) instilled in young Jim a love for close communion with nature and an instinctive understanding of jungle ways.
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.
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.
For a further glimpse into Corbett’s life, head to his family’s former winter retreat near Kaladhungi, which has been turned into the Jim Corbett Museum.