The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag|Ed Malone||11/30/05 at 08:19:43|obadiah|xx|0||TV Alert

BBC2 Friday 2nd December 9pm

Man Hunters - The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag

On film: how hunter caught a man-eater

By Tom Anderson

One of the most remarkable confrontations ever between man and beast
is the subject of the first television drama from the BBC's natural
history unit.

The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag is set in the summer of 1926,
when the hunter Jim Corbett set out to track and kill a rogue leopard
that was to eat 126 people. His legendary jungle guile and ultimate
success has made him a hero in India to this day.

The saga has its origins in the flu pandemic that swept the world in
the wake of the First World War. When the outbreak reached the north
Indian Himalayan region of Gharwal, a 1250-square-kilometre area of
rocky gorges, low-lying jungle and mountain villages, corpses were
consigned to plague pits. It is believed that feeding on these gave
the leopard a taste for human flesh.

The first report of a villager missing from Rudraprayag, an ancient
town in the foothills of the Himalayas, was in 1918. What proved to be
an eight-year reign of terror had begun, the leopard getting bolder
with every passing year.

For the last three years the victims were taken from inside their
homes. The man-eater had learnt to push down bamboo doors and climb
through windows before escaping into the night.

A bounty of 10 000 rupees (more than 1 000), a great deal of money at
that time, was offered, and hunters flocked in, but all attempts to
kill the animal failed. Questions were asked in parliament. The area
was in a state of terror.

When Corbett arrived in Rudraprayag he was already a hunter with a
hard-won reputation for physical bravery, skill and marksmanship. The
son of a postmaster, he was born at the hill station of Nainital in
the Kumaon hills of north India in 1875. Of British descent, he was
educated locally and was, to all intents and purposes, Indian.

He hunted from the age of eight and spent summers alone in the jungle,
where he trained his hearing and eyesight, learnt to move silently and
developed the "jungle sense" that warned him of predators.

Corbett always refused money for killing man-eaters, and made no
exception at Rudraprayag. Although he had risked his life many times
tracking rogue animals, he felt only pity for his prey; many tigers
and leopards had turned man-eater because they had been wounded but
not finished off by trophy-hunters. Corbett's only stipulation was
that all other hunters left the area.

He tracked the leopard for months, but it pulled the bait out of traps
and ate without any ill-effect the corpses that Corbett had poisoned
with cyanide. The animal had a sixth sense as uncanny as the man
hunting it.

Corbett once waited for three weeks in a tower that overlooked a
wooden bridge normally favoured by the leopard. The day after he gave
up, the man-eater crossed the bridge again and killed villagers.
Corbett began to feel he was the prey, finding paw prints that showed
the animal had been tracking him.

The leopard became more cunning still, once silently taking a man in
the time it took his friend to stoop for a dropped pipe.

The months-long battle of wits came to an end when Corbett camped for
10 nights in a mango tree. The hunter heard the bell of a terrified
goat jangling, shone his torch and saw the leopard. The torch failed
immediately but the split second of illumination was enough: Corbett
shot it dead. He felt no elation, he later wrote; the leopard had
committed crimes "not against the laws of nature, but against the laws
of man".

By the time of his death in 1957, Corbett had dispatched 12 big cats
that had killed at least 1 500 people. In 1959, a national park was
dedicated to him, and in 1968, one of five subspecies of tigers was
dubbed panthera tigris corbetti in his honour.

Sunday Independent||