India is home to about 70 percent of the world’s existing tiger population. The population was considerable in the 19th Century when several thousand tigers had roamed the virgin forests of the country.

The British took charge of Kumaon in 1815 and the next few decades saw a reckless cutting of trees due to an increased demand for timber and fuel.

According to a recently published book titled ‘Wild Life In and Around the Corbett Tiger Reserve’ the gravity of the problem was realised soon enough by a few administrators including Sir Henry Ramsay in the late 1850s.

Ramsay was a British general in the Indian Army and Commissioner of the Kumaon division. He was known as Ram Ji Saheb in the Garhwal and Kumaon area where he worked for nearly three decades.

In Almora, Ramsay built the Grand Oak Manor as his residence. Under his supervision the felling of trees was regulated.

However, an increasing demand of wood for infrastructure development, as fuel in industries and railways continued to ensure a constant pressure on the pristine forests. Inspired forest officers after Ramsay realised the need to protect the dwindling wildlife and a proposal was designed in 1916 to establish a sanctuary.

Later this idea was pushed by Lt. Colonel Edward James Corbett, British naturalist conservationist and writer. Corbett, along with other conservationists had succeeded in convincing Malcolm Hailey the then governor of the United Provinces to declare for five years, over 300 km area as a sanctuary in 1934.

Here, shooting animals was prohibited. The sanctuary was upgraded to the country’s first National Park in 1936. It was named the Hailey National Park and got its present name of the National Corbett Park in 1957.

In April 1973, the Project Tiger was launched in an area marked as the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR). The lap of the Shivalik mountains is amongst those forests in the country that have a high density of tigers.

The mosaic of grassland and forest along the River Ramganga is the favourite congregation point of Asian elephants as well. Here the animals get all that is needed to sustain them like unlimited fodder, water and mud for cooling their body.

Poaching and the disturbance of habitat had caused a rapid decline in the number of tigers. Till April 2023 there were 53 Tiger Reserves in the country and the total number of tigers today is estimated at more than 3000, with 440 tigers in Uttarakhand, and 250 in the CTR.

Wildlife-enthusiasts throng to this part of the Shivalik range of mountains in the lower Himalayas, pining for a glimpse of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Authors Rajesh Chaudhary and Vinesh Kumar introduce the virgin forests of the area to say that the terrain is full of lesser-known treasures of life as well, apart from the terrific tiger.

The CTR attracts a large number of birds and is a paradise for birdwatchers. There are songs and chirps, tweets and flutes all around. All the major rivers of CTR are home to large reptiles such as the crocodile and gharial, fishes, amphibians and certain mammals such as otters.

There is a large animal variety of insects like butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, dragonflies, damselflies and spiders in CTR and in the neighbouring forested areas of the terai or lowlands at the feet of the Himalaya mountains.

The book begins with a quotation from Corbett who had believed that a country’s fauna is a sacred trust that should not be betrayed. “If we do not bestir ourselves now, it will be to our discredit that the fauna of our province was exterminated in our generation and under our very eyes, while we looked on and never raised a finger to prevent it,” Corbett had said.

The concept of the conservation of nature originated at the CTR and it was translated into reality. The book narrates the success story of conservation of the natural world by the participation of local stakeholders.

The flourishing ecotourism here that attracts lakhs of national international tourists every year has played a key role in the economic development of the surrounding areas and better livelihoods for the local people. The Shivaliks range from an altitude of 600 metres to 1200 metres and are a treasure house of wildlife.

When the Shivaliks were clothed with even more dense forests, swamps and lakes many more crocodiles, turtles, gharials, hippos, rhinos, monkeys and elephants had lived here.

There is plenty of nature to observe, to listen, to imbibe and to photograph even now. But every safari trip invariably continues to end in tiger talks.

The authors have also highlighted the less sought-after natural treasures of the CTR in the luxuriant guidebook put together by them. The book is dense with close up photographs of the rich flora and fauna, birds and beasts that also populate the confluence of the Gangetic Plains and the higher Himalayas.

It is possible to spot animals here that are typical of both terrains due to the year-round availability of food and water found here. The terrain is magical. It looks plain throughout the winters but in warmer weather, the floor of the forest is carpeted with herbs, shrubs and gorgeous flowers.

At the onset of spring till early winters during spring and summers, flowers of every sort fill the forest with a bouquet of sweet aromas. During the rainy season the ground has a green cover with colourful, wild flowers scattered till eternity.

The livable conditions had made ancient animals comfortable here but a change in climate over the years has caused a turnover of the vegetation and the types of animals remaining in the forest. The book is a treasure trove of information, illustrations and route maps that point out all the other lives in the wildlife sanctuary worth a visit apart from the tiger.

There are more than 1500 photos identifying about 700 species of animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and plants. There is many a peep into the secret life of animals and plants with route maps and pictorial details providing a virtual tour of the CTR.

The invite is to discover the wonders of nature and an awareness of conservation of the undulating landscape covered with forested areas, scrubs and grasslands where scores of trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers, grasses, ferns and moss of mixed varieties grow to remind us that nature doesn’t need people, people need nature.

Nature will survive the extinction of the human being and go on just fine but human culture, human beings cannot survive without Nature. That is why Nature needs respect, and all the care in the world.

Title: ‘Wild Life in and around Corbett Tiger reserve’

Author: Rajesh Chaudhary and Vinay Kumar

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Price Rs 1495