Stories by and of Jim Corbett are still among the most riveting introductions to the tiger country of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The authorised narrative has it that even as he gained a reputation for the ability to kill a tiger/ leopard others could not pin down,he was an early convert to wildlife conservation. He would only target maneaters. And given his still bestselling books and the plaques across what is now Uttarakhand marking the sites of his kills,the stories have acquired an even shinier aura of romance. The measure of each hunt is recalled with ever more awe by the hundreds of humans each maneater had killed.
It is therefore bemusing then that it is in the tiger reserve named in Corbetts honour that a debate has been begun on what exactly is a maneater. On Saturday,the Uttarakhand forest department declared one of the tigers of Corbett
reserve a maneater. The tiger had killed a woman in the buffer zone of the reserve a few days earlier. Corbett is among the wildlife parks/ reserves in India most popular with tourists,and debate will inevitably rage on the benefits versus dangers of rampant wildlife tourism. But the incident is also reflective of a disturbing trend in Uttarakhand and adjoining stretches of UP,which have the densest tiger population in the world. A big sport has been begun by wanton declarations of tigers as maneaters. In contravention of strong guidelines that only habitual killers of human beings be declared maneaters,tigers which may be amenable to rather simple rehabilitation,are being hunted. The activity is becoming entertainment,with absurd rewards announced for a kill and with television crews wrecking conservation efforts by chasing the animals.
No guesses for wondering why wed wager that Jim Corbett would not have agreed to chase the latest maneater.