The Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey has recently proposed changing the name of Corbett National Park to Ramganga National Park. Jim Corbett National Park is a world-renowned tiger reserve in the world and is spread over an area of about 521 km. Jim Corbett National Park director, Rahul has confirmed the news but did not comment on the matter further. Wildlife lovers and tourists are showing displeasure over the name change with Wildlife lover Prakash Kimothi saying, as quoted by the news agency PTI, “We should focus more on preserving our heritage than changing the name.” Here we tell you the origins of the world renowned park and the legacy of the man who lent it its name.
Corbett’s name lives on in and around all the forests of Uttarakhand where a wildly revered hunter-naturalist once lived. His efforts led to the establishment of many forest parks we see in Uttarakhand. Jim Corbett lent his name to India’s oldest and most celebrated national parks in Uttarakhand along with the cottage industry that we see around that area. The Park was, however, not always a ‘Corbett’. India’s and Asia’s first national park, set up in 1936, was called Hailey National Park, named after Sir Macolm Hailey who was then the governor of the United Province. The park was renamed as Ramganga National Park after the river that flows through it. But then, shortly after Independence , it was renamed again as Corbett National Park in 1956.
“This was one of the few instances when something was named after an Englishman after Independence. Usually, things named after the English were renamed after Independence but this was the other way around,” says Stephen Alter, author of In the Jungles of the Night: A Novel About Jim Corbett (2016, Aleph Book Company), as reported in the Indianexpress.com.
“It was at the insistence of Corbett’s friend, the great freedom fighter from Kumaon and the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant, that the park was renamed after him, to honour his conservation efforts,” says Alter, whose book comes with great stories on Corbett.
About Jim Corbett: The hunter, the naturalist
Nainital born (1875), Edward James Corbett lived in India till Independence. He left for Kenya after that where he died in 1955. Corbett rose to fame in India after tracking down and killing a number of man-eating tigers and leopards. Also known as best hunter, Corbett is said to have killed over a dozen tigers and leopards. He was well-known as a storyteller and later, conservationist. Corbett used to be called upon regularly by the government to track and shoot man-eaters on the Garhwal and Kumaon villages based in Uttrakhand.
Jim Corbett: His legacy
“When the park was built (in 1936, hunting was prohibited in 1934), there was no dearth of forest nor of prey base, so the contribution of Jim Corbett was that he saw much before anyone else that because of the spread of roads, motor car and loosening of control of arms, the tiger did not stand much of a chance,” Rajiv Bhartari, director of Corbett Tiger Reserve from 2005 to 2008, now principal chief conservator of forests (head of forest force), Uttarakhand was quoted as saying in the Indianexpress.com. “So, he used all his skills, contacts and resources to work towards the establishment of Asian mainland’s first national park. It was Corbett’s vision that the tiger needed protection. The national park today presents over eight decades of conservation”, he further added.
Corbett’s legacy mainly lies in his early understanding of the link between conservation and community. “This path between protection and local welfare is a very tough path and Jim Corbett had a coherent philosophy. Not only did he try to work towards protection of tigers but he was equally sensitive and compassionate towards the villagers,” Bhartari who has supervised research both on Corbett’s legacy and the history of Corbett National Park at the Wildlife Institute of India was quoted as saying to Indianexpress.com.
“He was instrumental in setting up Chhoti Haldwani as a model Kumaoni village. In Corbett, there has been a connection between conservation and local people. When Corbett National Park was formed, the initial boundary was very carefully determined that no rights of villagers were affected. From its inception, it has enjoyed the goodwill of people, because of Jim Corbett. I think that’s his legacy, the unique relationship between people and conservation. Today we talk of development of agriculture, but Corbett spent much of his latter life in trying to improve agriculture in Chhoti Haldwani by spreading seeds, strengthening irrigation and encouraging villagers to grow not just for consumption but for sale. In his house itself, he let a worker run a tea shop to give him a source of living and finally when he went to Kenya, he gifted all his land to the villagers he had settled in Chhoti Haldwani,” added Bhartari.