Corbett: Kenya’s Strong Wildlife Connection with India

By Kul Bhushan

Corbett is Kenya’s strong wildlife connection with India. Corbett refers to Col Jim Corbett and also to Corbett National Park in India.

After he retired as a hunter, photographer and a conservationist, Jim Corbett moved to Kenya in 1947 and settled in Nyeri, a sleepy town on the slopes of Mount Kenya, where he wrote a number of his books, including one on the world famous Tree Tops.

Jim Corbett started off as an officer in the British army and attained the rank of a colonel. Frequently called in to kill man eating tigers or leopards, he became an experienced hunter in the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh, now called Uttrakhand.

Observing the beauty of wildlife, he morphed into an avid photographer and later a conservative. He persuaded the then governor to set aside this area as a wildlife sanctuary, naming it Hailey National Park. Writing his exploits as a hunter in a book, “Man Eaters of Kumaon’, he turned out to be a best-selling author for this and other books that followed. He died of a heart attack in 1955 and is buried in Nyeri. Corbett’s last book of 30 pages was on Tree Tops where Princess Elizabeth was declared as the Queen of Britain.

Two years later, the Indian government renamed the park he loved so much in his name for initiating conservation in India, especially saving the tiger. Indeed, he raised the first voice of concern for conservation in India which later led to the famous Project Tiger. Corbett National Park is celebrated in a new, beautiful and well written book: ‘Corbett National Park, Domain of the Wild’ with lively text by Ashima Kumar and stunning photos by Dushyant Prasher published by Konark (Rs. 1,995).

This brilliant coffee table book with crisp text by Ashima Kumar and stunning photographs by Dushyant Prasher celebrates the Jim Corbett and more so, the animal sanctuary. Both the collaborators have visited this park regularly over a couple of decades and it shows in the depth of the text and the quality of photographs. Interestingly, the book is also slickly designed by Prasher who is a reputed designer in his own right. This book starts off by detailing the first steps for wildlife conservation in India that took off from this park.

Unlike many coffee table books on wildlife, this well printed volume gives the history of the park with the dark days of British Raj when forests were cut for wood and animals killed for the sport of ‘shikar’. It goes on to document the first voice of concerns for conservation to the launch of Project Tiger. Then it describes the mega fauna and other forms of wildlife, including the bird life, trees and flora, ending with threats to the park and the perennial question of development versus conservation. The book is a pleasure to leaf through due to its arresting photos and interesting to read as each chapter is three or four pages of text enlivened with sparkling photos.

It is difficult to decide whether to read the captivating text or gloat over all the photos. The text is sometimes in first person describing the real life experience of the location and then moving to the core issue while the photos add to the interest.

Ashima begins the book with one of her visits in summer 2015. “The sprawling grassland was shimmering in the golden glow of the morning sun,” she writes, “ I was scanning the stillness all around me for any movement that would give away the presence of the many secrets that I knew it held within these green fields. Suddenly, barely ten meters away from me, a blade of grass moved!” Yes, it was a tiger moving to jump on its prey as a photo by Prasher right opposite this page shows so dramatically.

Ashima takes the reader on a jeep safari all over the park covering all its divisions. Her keen eye does not miss even the insects; leave alone the trees and the birds. Again, the first person style seems as if the reader is watching a documentary what with the evocative photos for every page of text. Prasher’s bird photos make the grade of seasoned birders since the eyes of every bird are in sharp focus.

This is a volume to treasure for every wildlife lover.