Most Celebrated Animal-Story !
Jim Corbett's ''Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag'' has already topped the charts as one of the most celebrated animal stories. The villain of this piece is a cunning leopard which, according to Corbett himself, was 'one of the most publicized animals' that has ever lived. Jim Corbett had shot two man-eating leopards in Kumaon. One was the Panar man-eater which operated in an extremely remote area of Kumaon. However the leopard of Rudraprayag hunted in an area through which thousands of good Hindu pilgrims used to make their journey each year to the holy shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath.
The book starts off with a description of the pilgrim route, starting at Hardwar to Rishikesh, then through the Laxman Jhula, right up the mountains. It was in this region that the leopard of our story set up its hunting grounds but the only problem was it preyed on humans. The terror that this animal created, is so vividly brought out that the reader is held right on to the edge of his seat with a chill down his spine ! One of the exploits of this leopard as given in the book is as follows. At dusk a man and his friend were sitting inside a hut in darkness chatting with each other and smoking hookah. One of them accidentally dropped the hookah. Shouting at his friend that he would set the hut ablaze, the man stooped to pick up the ash and as he did so, the door of the hut which was open, came to his view and through it, silhouetted against the rising moon, he saw the leopard carrying away his friend. The man claimed not to have heard as much as the intake of a breath during the entire procedure.Many such spine-chilling instances of the leopard's notoriety are presented in the book.
Corbett recounts one of his night adventures with this leopard as his night of terror. The reader is awed along with Corbett, at the degree of cunningness an animal can achieve as it thwarts almost all efforts to bag it but one. The description that Corbett provides along the details of each and every sound in the jungle and every clue in the forest that he uses to track the leopard is fascinating.
The elements that set apart this story from other Corbett stories about man-eaters are the multiple night vigils for shooting the leopard. Sometimes the leopard escaped by a hair, sometimes Corbett considered himself lucky to come out of it in a single piece. This dual game goes on throughout the story and completely absorbs the reader,until the game is won in favor of Corbett.
There's one word of caution that I would like to present to the prospective readers and also to those who have already read this book. This leopard was a particular animal and thus no conclusions should be drawn from it about leopards in general. Leopards are often wrongfully branded as 'scavengers', 'vermins', 'shrewd' and 'cunning'. But in truth, the leopard is the most beautiful of all animals to be found in the Indian jungle,shy and agile in its own unique way. It is one of the most beautiful creations of God and we should all vow for the conservation and protection of the Indian Leopard.