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Book Review: ‘The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag’

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Original Article was published in my Medium Page


A Picture of a Forest in the Mountains


During my childhood days, our grandparents use to inculcate inventiveness of ancient lore through the Stories of the carnivores. Have you ever imagined those jungles, where you are roaming across ramshackle houses in the midst of the muddy roads across the woods and lo! There is a Tiger standing!


Tigers from historic times have dominated areas of North Indian Forests and Sunder bans. In many places, Tigers are seen as some form of Magic Spirit, some form of Evil, some form of incarnation of Goddess etc. These are human imaginations, which challenges rational thoughts even today in some regions of the world.


As per the report released on the numbers of Tigers, the result is inspiring. Tigers have increased significantly in recent years in the Indian Sub-continent. This species have always been the heart of wildlife and their reduction in number could have been a cause a concern. The increase of human population and their encroachment in the areas inhabited by these Carnivores and their silent acquiescence of these intrusion lead to their trespassing to nearby settlements in search of new space.


Among these carnivores, there is another species called Leopards, who are graceful and powerful big cats and are related to lions, tigers and jaguars. These leopards are found in various places like Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, North East Africa, India and also in some parts of China.


Photograph of the Book — Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag written by Jim Corbett, taken from the Book I purchased from Amazon Kindle


One of the specialty of Leopards is that they are comfortable in climbing trees and they have the ability to bring their prey high up in the trees. Leopards do also hunt from these woody plants. Camouflaging in the midst of the trees and very focused, these leopards target their prey and it becomes very difficult to save one-selves from their attacks. In India, the count of Leopards have increased manifold and is a welcome news for animal lovers.


This story written by Jim Corbett on ‘The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag’ is an incident which occurred during 1924–1926. Jim Corbett was called to save hundreds of villages from the man eating carnivore leopard. The entire incident happened around Rudraprayag, which is placed in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.


Rudraprayag is one of the Panch Prayag of Alaknanda River, the point of confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini. The meaning of ‘Prayag’ is the Hindi word for ‘Confluence’.


In India, the confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini is mesmerizing. The ripples of the water, the sounds of the birds, the plopping of rivers, the splashing of the liquid over the stones along with the whispers of the cool wind over a blue horizon creates an enchanting atmosphere. The feel of this entire experience has a wonderful charm of its own. About 86 Km from Rudraprayag is Kedarnath, which a holy town of the Hindus.


This book has a great detail about a Man-Eating Leopard, who for eight years have killed many humans as well as animals. The plight of the villagers who had suffered is difficult to express in words. Jim Corbett was a colonel in the British Indian Army and he was best known as conservationist and naturalist.


During those time when United Provinces had jungles inhabited by the Carnivores like Tiger, Leopards etc, the villagers lived with caution. This United Province now approximately covers the Indian States of Uttar Pradesh & Uttarakhand.


As per Corbett, Leopards generally do not become Man-Eaters. They normally survives as scavengers to the extent that they eat any dead thing, when they are in hungry. These tendencies are just like lions who are found in the African Jungles. Leopards are generally not man-eaters and they are the most graceful of all animals and have the ability to outrun most of the animals in the kingdom.


Photograph of a Forest near a Stream


This story has been narrated and written of an event which took place between 1925 and 1926. It was in Rudraprayag when a Man-Eating Leopard for 8 years had made life of Villagers miserable. After so many interventions by Government of those times during those years, it was almost impossible for anyone to tract the leopard. It seems from the entire incident that the Leopard has brains which outran a human grey matter!


This leopard which was found in Rudrapayag as per the narration of Jim Corbett did not start its career by eating a human. One of the reason, that this leopard became man-eater, because it can came across dead bodies. In 1918 the influenza epidemic made havoc and it was difficult to pay last rites for everyone who were affected in this disease. It was during these times this Man-Eating Leopard made appearance. Slowly as years passed by, it made many victims viz. humans and other animals like goats and cows.


As per the book, it is stated that the first human kill at Rudraprayag happened on 9 June 1918 and the last kill was on 14 April 1926. In this 8 years, this leopard have killed as per the Government records of those times mentioned in the book is one hundred and twenty five. However, Jim Corbett, mentions that he is not sure of the actual figure.


He mentions in his book that on one night at the Chalet Bar, while he was having a drink with a friend, he heard Michael Keene — the then Chief Secretary to the Government of the United Provinces and later as Governor of Assam saying a group of men about the man eating leopard telling a group of men about the man-eater and trying to persuade them to go after it. His appeal, judging from the remark of one of the group and endorsed by the others, was not received with any enthusiasm. The remark was, ‘Go after a man eater that has killed a hundred people? Not on your life!’


(Excerpts from the Book: The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag)


This made Jim Corbett to meet Michael Keene to get all the particulars, he wanted. He then met Sir Wiliam Ibbotson, who was then lately the Adviser to the Governor of the United Provinces and was then posted to Garhwal as Deputy Commissioner and was trying his best to save the district from the man-eater.


The entire narration of Jim Corbett and his tireless movement across villages, jungles, woods, streams and talking to hundreds of people to locate a leopard was a journey which need to be read. The book also states about his constant failures on every attempt to locate the leopard made him at one point of time get frustrated.


However, after years of tireless search and spending sleepless nights to save the villagers from this leopard, he could finally locate the carnivore and in the end, could shoot the man-eater at around 10 pm.


It was on this 2nd May, 1926, the villages and their inhabitants at Garhwal and Rudraprayag could finally got a sigh of relief as Jim Corbett had done the unimaginable which no one could do for last eight years. This brought an end to the cries of a bereaved mother, and the villagers, saints whose near and dear ones were killed by this man-eater. Jim Corbett saved them even at the cost of his own life.


However, this incident of the death of the leopard made Jim Corbett emotional. He writes in his book:


Here was only an old leopard who differed from others of his kind in that his muzzle was grey and his lips lacked whispers; the best-hated and the most feared animal in all India, whose only crime — not against the laws of nature, but against the laws of man — was that he had shed human blood, with no object of terrorizing man, but only in order that he might live; and who now, with his chin resting on the rim of the hole and his eyes half closed, was peacefully sleeping his long last sleep.

(Excerpts Taken from The Book ‘The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag’)


Such was the huge pressure during those times of finding the man-eating Leopard that Jim Corbett writes in his own language:


‘Ibbotson had carried a heavy responsibility since october of the previous year, for to him was left the answering of questions of Councillors anxious to please their constituents, of Government officials who were daily getting alarmed at the mountain death-toll, and of a press that was clamouring for results..’

(Excerpts Taken from The Book ‘The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag’)


Tigers are one of the valuable species of the animal kingdom and their presence in the jungle helps in maintaining the ecological balance. It’s only when a Tiger or a Leopard taste human flesh, they become Man-eaters and hence becomes a cause of concern.


This book is an interesting read of the journey of locating a man-eating Leopard by Jim Corbett and I feel you may like reading the book. If I have to rate the book on 10 stars and 10 being the highest, I will give the book 9 stars.


(Please Note: The above are my own personal thoughts after going through the book. Your views and opinions after reading the book may differ)


This is all from me in this article. Hope you have liked my personal thoughts and opinions.


Please share your thoughts or comments if your time permits.


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https://majumdarbookreviews.asia/

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