"Maneaters of Kumaon", Chapawat Tiger, Colonialism, Environmentalism, India, Jim Corbett, Political Correctness
Leave it to the current generation of pseudo-intelligentsia. They can screw up anything. Dane Huckelbridge, for instance, takes one chapter of the great Jim Corbett’s Big Game Hunting classic Maneaters of Kumaon (1944), and makes his own book out of it, No Beast So Fierce: The Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History (2019).
The difference between Jim Corbett writing a first-hand account in the 1940s and Dane Huckelbridge recycling that account today is the ideology. Jim Corbett’s story is a modest, downright self-effacing account of how a local sportsman went to the assistance of terrified Indian villagers and tracked down and killed an extraordinarily bold and aggressive man-eating tigress who’d killed and eaten a record 436 people. Corbett does attribute the tiger’s human predation to a jaw injury from an old bullet-wound, but Corbett tells a stoic and under-stated modern version of the classic man versus monster story.
For Huckelbridge though, the man versus monster saga is just a secondary problem arising from a more basic, more important conflict: British Colonialism versus Pristine Native India.
Then there is Jim Corbett, the now-legendary hunter who was finally commissioned by the British government to end the Champawat Tigerâ€™s reign. To many, even in present-day India, he is nothing short of a secular saint, a brave and selfless figure who risked life and limb to defend poor villagers when no one else would. To others, particularly academics engaged with post-colonial ecologies, he is just another perpetrator of the Eurocentric paternalism that defined the colonial experience. Each is a fair judgment. …
Which brings us, inevitably, to colonialism itselfâ€”a topic far too broad and multifaceted for any single book, let alone one thatâ€™s concerned primarily with man-eating tigers. Yet it is colonialism, undeniably, and the onslaught of environmental destruction that it almost universally heralds, that served as the primary catalyst in the creation of our man-eater. It may have been a poacherâ€™s bullet in Nepal that first turned the Champawat Tiger upon our kind, but it was a full century of disastrous ecological mismanagement in the Indian subcontinent that drove it out of the wild forests and grasslands it should have called home, and allowed it to become the prodigious killer that it was.
What becomes clear upon closer historical examination is that the Champawat was not an incident of nature gone awryâ€”it was in fact a man-made disaster. From Valmik Thapar to Jim Corbett himself, any tiger wallah could tell you the various factors that can turn a normal tiger into a man-eater: a disabling wound or infirmity, a loss of prey species, or a degradation of natural habitat. In the case of the Champawat, however, we find not just one but all three of these factors to be irrefutably present. Essentially, by the late nineteenth century, the British in the United Provinces of northern India and their Rana dynasty counterparts in western Nepal had created, through a combination of irresponsible forestry tactics, agricultural policies, and hunting practices, the ideal conditions for an ecological catastrophe.
And it was the sort of catastrophe we can still find whiffs of today, be it in the recent spate of shark attacks in RÃ©union Island, the rise of humanâ€“wolf conflict on the outskirts of Yellowstone, or even the man-eating tigers that continue to appear in places like the Sundarbans forest of India or Nepalâ€™s Chitwan National Park. In the modern day, we have at last, thankfully, come to realize the importance of apex predators in maintaining the health of our ecosystemsâ€”but weâ€™re still negotiating, somewhat painfully, how best to live alongside them. And thatâ€™s to say nothing of the far more sweeping problems posed by global warming and mass extinction, exigencies that have arisen from very much the same amalgamation of economic mismanagement and environmental destruction. Apex predators are generally considered bellwethers of the overall health of the environment, and at present, with carbon emissions on the rise and natural habitats diminishing, the outlook for both feels disarmingly uncertain.
Which is why this particular story of environmental conflict is not only relevant, but urgent and necessary. At its core, Jim Corbettâ€™s quest to rid the valleys of Kumaon of the Champawat Tiger is dramatic and straightforward, but the tensions that underscore it contain the resonance of much larger and more grievous issues. Yes, it is a timeless tale of cunning and courage, but also a lesson, still very much pertinent today, about how deforestation, industrialization, and colonization can upset the fragile balance of cultures and ecosystems alike, creating unseen pressures that, at a certain point, must find their release.
What a spectacular mÃ©lange of politically correct, fashionable think nonsense!
All of Mr. Huckelbridge’s pious notions about “ecosystems” healthy or otherwise, “apex predators,” proper forestry, suitable hunting practices, game conservation,and Environmentalism are entirely Western ideas. When he applies them to Kumaon, he himself is being colonialist.
The Champawat maneater was undoubtedly injured by an unskilled native poacher armed with a primitive musket, shooting at a tiger in defiance of hunting laws and game permits invented and imposed by the British Raj. How Huckelbridge can claim that this occurred because the poor tiger was driven out of some unidentified “forests and grasslands” by “a century of ecological mismanagement and environmental destruction” to arrive at the forests and grasslands of Kumaon is unexplained. Where exactly was it that all this alleged mismanagement and destruction occurred? Were there no native tigers in Kumaon previous to all this nearby mismanagement and destruction? What exactly does Huckelbridge think the British (and their Rana dynasty of Western Nepal counterparts) mismanaged and destroyed? Why are the British supposedly to blame for (politically independent) Nepalese actions and policies anyway?
It’s all just a farrago of Enviro-sanctimony and cant lavishly seasoned with the usual “British Colonialism was simply awful” left-wing fantasy.
In reality, the difference between Pre-Raj India and the India of Jim Corbett was that, in the former, tigers undoubtedly had more commonly the upper hand, most humans were unarmed or poorly armed, maneaters munched their way through the Indian peasantry unrebuked without records or scores of the numbers eaten ever being known or kept.
Huckelbridge’s book is nothing more than a breathless re-telling of one chapter of Maneaters of Kumaon accompanied by a truckload of PC nonsense and a lot sanctimonious self-righteousness. Consign this one to Kali!