Corbett National Park & Sanctuary
The Corbett National Park just short of 300 km northeast of Delhi, cradled in
the foothills of the Himalaya's in the state of Uttrakhand in the
North India. It is India's first national park and also one of her finest.
This park has quite a history. Long ago, on the banks of the river Ramganga,
there lived a flourishing community. Today, some evidence of their culture is
found in fragments of terra-cotta and the remains of their temples along the
river. This community lived by clearing some of the forest in the duns (valleys)
and had to fight a constant battle to keep their farmlands free from the
The First in a Series: The 40 years following the arrival of the British
in this area in 1820 were disastrous. Trees were felled mercilessly for timber
and these virgin forests were devastated. It was a Major Ramsay who took the
first real systematic measures which, in years to follow, were to restore the
forests to their former health.
Cattle stations were removed, cultivation was stopped, a fire-fighting force was
established and, most important, the removal of timber without a license was
totally prohibited. Then in 1907, the possibility of creating a game sanctuary
in this area was first mooted, but was rejected outright. Two forest officers,
E.R. Stevens and his successor, E.A. Smythies, were to take up this cause again.
However, it was only later, when Smythies was conservator that he consulted
Major Jim Corbett who knew this area well, regarding the possible boundaries for
a proposed national park.
During the 1930s, tiger shooting was in vogue and many a viceroy,
governor-general and other dignitary visited this area - the famous terai and
bhabar tracts of the then United Provinces - to bag their tigers from
elephant-back and high machans in elaborate tamashas (entertainments): tiger
shoots. However, it was through the efforts of other hunters, the true
conservationists, who abhorred this form of sport and massacre, that Sir Malcolm
Hailey, then Governor of the United Provinces, keenly accepted the
recommendation that an area of 99.07 sq miles (256.59 sq km) be set aside for
the park. Thus, on Aug. 8, 1936, the Hailey National Park, India's first, was
Tribute to an Enlightened Hunter: In 1952, a few years after India
attained independence, the park's name was changed to Ramganga National Park,
after the life-giving Ramganga river that flows through almost the whole length
of it. In 1957, it was renamed once more, Corbett National Park, in honor and
memory of the late Jim Corbett, the legendary, hunter-naturalist turned author
and photographer who had helped in demarcating the park's boundaries and setting
it up. it was in this area that he had shot the dreaded "maneaters," the
notorious Kanda Maneater being one of them. His books on these thrilling,
true-life adventures, The Maneaters of Kumaon and The Maneating Leopard of
Rudraprayag, are perennial best-sellers, well-known all over the world.
The man who had influenced Jim Corbett most to hang up his guns and take to
the camera was a forest officer, F. W. Champion, the pioneer of wildlife
photography in India
In the late 1960's and the early 1970's, the world was hit by the awareness that
the Indian tiger ( Panthera Tigers ) was on the brink of extinction and that of
an estimates 40,ooo at the turn of the centaury. less than 2000 survived in the
wild. A far reaching project was envisaged. Its philosophy was that, if the
tiger and its habitat were totally protected in tiger reserves, then other
species of fauna and flora too would flourish as nature would maintain her own
balance. Thus, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, Project Tiger was
launched at Dhikala in the Corbett National Park on Apr. I, 1973. This National
Park was one of the first tiger reserves along with seven others in the country;
today, there are 15 such reserves. The tiger census for 1984 reveals that there
are now 4005 tigers in India.
Topography : The Corbett National Park or just "Corbett" as it is also
popularly known is situated in the hilly districts of Pauri Garhwal and Nainital
of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. It lies between latitude 29° 13' North
and 29° 35' North . and longitude 78° 33' East and 78° 46' East. The park
comprises an area of 201 sq miles, (520.6 sq km). Of this, an area of 123.5 sq
miles (320 sq km) is the core - the sanctum, where no kind of disturbance is
permitted. There is a move to expand the park by another 425 sq miles (l100 sq
km). After that an area of 116 sq miles (300 sq km) added to the northern area
of the park. This expansion is keenly sought after by conservationists as it
will link the park with other forests through corridor's. This is important to
help the overflow of animals to level out, prevent inbreeding and ensure that
viable gene pools are maintained.
The area in the Himalayan foothills in which the park is situated is known as
the South Patlidun. In elevation the park ranges between 1312 feet (400 meters)
at its lowest to 3970 feet (1210 meters) at its highest. Corbett is, in fact, a
large valley with its long axis from east to west. Through this valley run three
thickly forested ridge systems roughly parallel to one another and in the same
direction. Small offshoots of these ridges run north to south and the valleys
formed in between are known as sots. The ridge to the north forms the boundary
of the park in that direction and Kanda, the highest point, with its magnificent
panoramic view of the park is here.
Between the northern ridge and the median ridge which is the longest is the
Ramganga river, which enters the park from the northeast, flows through the park
into the reservoir and makes its exit at Kalagarh towards the southwest. The
southern ridge is a bit lower and this area of the park is drier and is notable
for its more deciduous type of vegetation and its own rugged' charm.
A topographic change of significance that took place in the park was the
inundation of 16 sq miles (42 sq km) of prime habitat when almost a tenth of the
park's area was lost to the waters of a multipurpose hydel dam at Kalagarh. This
is the largest earthern dam in Asia and lies at the southwestern fringe of
Corbett. The construction of the dam certainly was not in the best interest of
the park. Conservationists had feared that the changes that would come with such
a dam would bring about adverse effects but the changes by and large have been
absorbed by the remarkable resilience of nature.
The waters first started to fill up in 1974. In 1976, when they
had inundated a greater part of the reservoir, the elephant
migration routes linking the park with the western and
northwestern reserved forests were cut off. Not for long though.
Those great, accomplished surveyors of gradients and
trailblazers soon established other routes. There was a shift of
animals from the affected areas to higher ground. There will
also be changes that are less apparent at this stage and though
some research has been done, much more is needed and is planned
to study these changes in detail. The lake, besides just its
scenic charm, has added to the park in a few ways. A large
number of species of water birds, both migrants and others, have
begun to frequent its waters, though mainly in winter.
Crocodiles - both the long-snouted, fish-eating gharial (Gavialis
gangeticus) and the mugger (Crocodylus palustris) have found new
homes here and their numbers have increased. They can often be
seen sunning themselves on the sand banks.
For anglers too the lake is a paradise. Sporting fish such as
the mahseer (Barbus tor) and malee (Wallago allu), abound in the
lake and in the river. The mahseer is a well-known fighting
fish. Fishing with rod and line is allowed if a permit is first
obtained. Fishing in the river, however, offers greater pleasure
as well as good exercise to the sportsman who is called upon to
pit his skill to outwit the mighty mahseer. The lake offers
better fishing perhaps, but lacks the thrill and sport of the
Flora and Climate: Vegetation in the park is confined chiefly to the
bhabar tract type of the Siwalik hills; different kinds of vegetation are found
all along the varied topography, which comprises hilly and riverain areas,
temporary marshy depressions, plateaus and ravines. The park is known for its
almost pure sal (Shorea robusta) stands in the lower hilly ridges and flat
valleys. Some associates of sal here are haldu (Adira cordi/olia), rohini (Mallotus
philippinensis), and karipak (Murraya konigi).
The riverain area is clothed in shisham (Da/bergia sissoo), khair (Acacia
catechu) and others. In early summer it's an unforgetta ble sight to witness the
soothing green of the shisham islands in new leaf.
On the higher ridges we find bakli (Anogeissus /alifo/ia) which enriches the
hues of the park with its reddish leaves and pale bark. The chir (Pinus
roxburghii), anauri (Legestroemia paruijlora), and gurail (Bauhinia racemosa)
are some others that find root-holds at these contours, along with bamboos. The
common shrub is C/erodendrum viscasum and a weed which is causing some concern
is the lantana.
The chaurs, the savannah grasslands, are covered with a variety of grasses like
Themeda arundinacea, Vetiveria iizanioides and Thysanu/ena maxima.
A hundred and ten' species of trees, 51 species of shrubs and over 33 species of
bamboo and grass are found here.
There are three distinct seasons in Corbett: Cold - November to February; Hot -
March to June; Rainy (Monsoons) July to October. In winter the nights are cold
at an average of 41 ° F (5° C), with frost and some fog which lasts till late
morning, but the sun is pleasant and the day temperature averages 77° F (25°C).
In the hot season, June is the hottest month, with day temperatures going up to
an unbearable 112° F (44° C) but the nights are pleasant with an average
temperature of 70° F (21°C). In the monsoon season, from June to October, the
park remains closed to tourists. There is very heavy rain, between 60 inches and
112 inches (1500 mm and 2800 mm). The roads are washed away by the heavy
downpours and when the sun does shine the jungle steams with humidity. The
animals move to the hilly areas of Corbett at this time for the cool breeze and
to avoid the daans, a blood-sucking fly, which plagues them in the lowlands.
Surely, these few months are times of a well deserved rest from the attentions
of man for the denizens of the jungle.
Rich Variety: Over 50 mammal, 580 bird and 25 reptile species have been
list~d in Corbett. The insect life in itself is astounding and though not much
work has been done in this respect even the layman will be amazed at its
abundance, mainly after the monsoon.
Corbett is well-known and a haven for its tigers. There is plentiful prey - four
kinds of deer, wild boar and other lesser animals - for them to live on. With a
bit of luck, it's possible to see a tiger on the road as you enter the park and
motor down to Dhikala.
Pug marks are seen in abundance on the roadsides, paths and animal trails. It's
by tracing these pug marks, which bear individual characteristics, that the
estimated population, which has shown a marked increase from 40 in 1972 to 90
tigers in 1984, is known. 164 Tigers in 2009.
Leopards (Panthera pardus) are found in the hilly areas of the park. They do
sometimes venture into the lower jungles but at much risk to themselves from
tigers. There have been many cases of leopards being killed and eaten by tigers.
The leopard is, however, a great survivor and can sustain itself on even small
birds and rodents.
The lesser cats such as the leopard cat (Fe/is bengalensis horsfieldi), the
jungle cat (Felis chaus), the rare fishing cat (Felis viverina) and some others
are found here, but being nocturnal are rarely seen.
The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is found in the Bijrani-Malani areas of the
park. It can be seen on the roadsides in the early morning or late evening,
busily demolishing termite mounds for the grubs, or in the mahwa (Madhura indica)
trees, relishing the sweet sticky flowers, which ferment in the hot season and
The Himalayan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) is seen in the higher hills
towards Kanda but only rarely and that too in the cold winters.
The dhole (Cuon a/pinus), the wild dog, is also rare and seen in the southern
areas of Corbett towards Bijrani. The jackal (Canis aureus) is commonly seen
around all the campus areas. During the fawning season, jackals are most active
and can be seen killing and carrying off newly dropped chital fawns.
The yellow-throated marten (Martes .f/avieula flavieula), the Himalayan palm
civet (Paguma larvata grayi), the Indian gray mongoose (Herpestes dwardsi), the
common otter (Lutra lutra montieola) and the blacknaped hare (Lepus nigrieo/lis
rufieaudatus) are some of the smaller resident mammals. The porcupine (Hystrix
indica) can also be seen at night near the garbage dumps of the campus at
Elephants (E/ephas maximus) are. one of the main attractions of Corbett. The
whole jungle belongs to them. It is possible to see a herd or even a lone tusker
crossing the road. Corbett's elephants by and large are well behaved, but one
must always remember that, "Elephants have the right of way." The park's
elephant population varies from about 200 to 300 and more in summer, when the
sub-herds amalgamate and form large herds.
Of the four species of deer that are found here are the chital (Axis axis), the
wellknown spotted deer and considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
This is one of the chief prey animals of the carnivora. A smaller cousin of the
chital, the para (Axis porcinus) is found in the more open grassland and
riverain areas. The sambar ( Cervus unicolor) is the largest Asiatic deer and is
sought after by the larger adult tigers of the park. The kakkar (Muntiacus
muntjak), also called the barking deer, is the smallest of the four. Nervous and
shy, it warns the jungle's denizens of danger with its hoarse, dog-like bark.
The Goat-antelopes are represented by the ghoral (Nemorhaedus goral) in Corbett.
Ghorals can be spotted on a drive up the hilly road to Kanda.
Wild boar (Sus serofa) are found in the forests as well as in the grasslands,
sometimes seen in sounders of 10 to 30 pigs. Even the tigers respect the large
male boars. In encounters sometimes, tigers are known to have been killed by a
large male wild boar.
The Langur (Presby tis entellus) and the rhesus (Macaca mulatta) are well
distributed throughout the park and also warn the jungle with their alarm calls,
when they see either tiger or It';opard from their tree-top perches.