Book Review: The Maneaters of Kumaon

Corbett, Jim. The Maneaters of Kumaon (Kindle edition, Merwin Unwin Reprint)

I grew up being told stories from Corbett and Capstick, and Bell, and other hunters and naturalists. So I knew the stories before I read them. That doesn’t change the heart-racing effect of reading this book, however. Corbett was a great story-teller as well as naturalist and hunter.

I needed a complete brain break. This was the perfect book for that. Short, intense, and beautifully written.

Jim Corbett (1875-1955) was born in India and learned how to stalk and hunt from the time he was a child. He served with the Indian Army, and became the hunter of choice to deal with problem predators (tigers and leopards) in northern India in the early 20th century. It is from his tracking of three man-eating tigers that The Maneaters of Kumoan stems.

Corbett is called to deal with a tiger that has begun stalking people. This often occurred because the animal had become injured and could no longer take its usual prey, or had acquired a taste for human from eating unburned bodies after plague or other disaster. All three of the tigers in this book were injured in some way and crippled, or old and unable to hunt as well. The local people could not, and would not, take the beasts on themselves.

Corbett takes great pains to point out that he was very lucky. He did stupid things, didn’t listen to his gut, and had the heebie geebies scared out of himself more than once. You also come to realize that he knew the jungle and its creatures as well as the tigers and leopards did. The book is rich in sounds and scents, as well as visual description. Corbett loved the land and its people and critters, and had great respect for them.

You are with the author as he trails and stalks, or waits in ambush, for the tigers. He preferred to hunt alone, and after some of his adventures you come to agree with him. You are also probably gasping for breath, heart racing, as he inches the small rifle around with painful slowness, trying not to startle the smiling beast lurking…

Nah, no spoilers. 🙂

Porcupines can turn tigers and leopards into man eaters, as can badly aimed shots that wound the animal. If the tiger is not finished off, and the wound festers, the beast can’t hunt his usual prey, and begins hunting humans. Humans are soft, slow, and tasty, if you are an injured tiger, leopard, or lion.

All is not just tiger hunting, however. The book also includes stories about good and bad dogs, fishing, and beautiful descriptions of nature. Corbett was an active conservationist before there was such a word, and Corbett National Park in India is still a vital reserve for tigers and other animals.

The book is short, a fast read, but can also be savored, once you find you if he makes it this time. The edition named above has the original illustrations included.

If hunting bothers you, I’d avoid the book. Corbett did not go into gory detail about what the tigers did, but he gives you enough that sensitive readers might balk. I wouldn’t read this as bedtime stories to kids. Otherwise it is an excellent read, as are his other works, all relatively short.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and neither the publisher nor the author’s estate provided me any remuneration.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Maneaters of Kumaon

  1. I believe Izaak Walton (author of ‘The Compleat Angler’, 1653) has earned the title of “first conservationist.” Corbett took the ball and advanced it across the field. He influenced the right people to actually get things done.

    Great things are accomplished by a few people who insist that things have to change. The trick is getting TPTB to pay any attention to them.

  2. That’s another good one for my list. From your description, I see how this informed part of your construction of Shikari.

    I was thinking of “The Colonel’s Tiger”, part of an early book (mid 90s) in Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars series. The premise was a banned family diary, about bringing in the Great Hunter to kill a maneater. The SF twist was the ‘tiger’ was a Kzin scout who’d landed in India and started recon, but left his own diary for his kits.

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