How Jim Corbett Observed the Wild

“The book of nature has no beginning, as it has no end. Open this book where you will, and at any period of your life, and if you have the desire to acquire knowledge you will find it of intense interest, and no matter how long or how intently you study the pages, your interest will not flag, for in nature there is no finality.”

― Jim Corbett

Naturalist/Conservationist Edward James Corbett had a way about the forest which he nurtured with fine finesse. As a child, it was around the age of seven that Jim tuned his sense towards the natural world. The species that he encountered, were viewed with great interest and admiration and regarded them as a marvel of nature. Once he grew older, he became an ardent learner of nature as he incorporated the sounds of the forest to track animals including the man-eaters he had taken down. For his readers, it’s evident that the author thoroughly enjoyed the environment around him and did an invaluable justice to his books as he showcased an extraordinarily beautiful world.

When one shares a similar curiosity and passion for the forest the way he did, they develop a remarkable ability to understand their surroundings. With Jim, this interpretation began with the classification of the wildlife at a very young age as he categorized them in groups based on his observations of how they interacted with their environment –


  • Birds that beautified nature’s garden. In this group, he added minivets, orioles and sunbirds.

With mesmerizing plumages, Jim saw the inherent beauty of such birds as they merged with the flora of their environment. Their striking colors and iridescence as they ruffle their feathers, creates a motion of visuals that throw their viewers in s spell of enchantment.

  • Birds that filled the garden with melody: thrushes, robins and shamas.

More often than not, before seeing a bird, we hear them. The beautifully crafted songs of such species at times rival the compositions of the some of the best musicians. It’s almost as if nature curated this playlist for our entertainment and bliss.

  • Birds regenerated the garden: barbets, hornbills and bulbuls.

The types of birds listed above are known for their voracious fruit encompassing diet. These birds gorge on some of the ripest figs and berries, that once they’ve satiated themselves, they go about dropping seeds, paving the way for a new generation of plants and trees that will perpetuate the circle of life.

  • Birds that warned of danger: drongos, red jungle fowl, and babblers.

Tuning oneself to the happenings of the jungle requires spending adequate time to understand the reactions of certain species of birds to potential threats. Most create an alarm to warn others on any impeding dangers from predators such as raptors. At times, jungle fowl, peafowl and babblers raise an alarm even when there are larger predators such as jungle cats or leopards on the prowl.

  • Birds that maintained the balance of nature

It’s safe to say, that without certain predators, there would be a disproportionately large population of pests and other birds, offsetting the natural functioning of an ecosystem. Raptors are vital to healthy ecosystem. Without them, species of birds, rodents or reptiles could become highly invasive.

  • Birds performed the duty of scavengers: vultures, kites and crows.

If it weren’t for such birds, disease would spread like wildfire among the forest dwellers. These specialist species have adapted to feed on decomposing carrion, thereby curtailing the transmission of infectious disease by providing an invaluable service of clearing rotting carcasses.


  • Animals that beautified nature’s garden. In this group, he added deer, antelopes and monkeys

Watching herbivores is one such activity that instills a deep sense of joy and pleasure. Monkeys leaping across tree top canopies while antelopes and deer browse and graze on vegetation with infinite grace. The forest thrives with such life, adding to the spectacle and grandeur of the natural world.

  • Animals that helped to regenerate the garden by opening up and aerating the soil: bears, pigs and porcupines

Sloth Bears, Wild Pigs and Porcupines are nature’s tillers and by digging for grubs and roots, they aerate a major portion of the forest floor, allowing roots and microorganisms to renew and invigorate themselves with a breath of fresh air. By opening the airways within the soil, the exchange of gases supports better water and nutrient absorb, enhances plant growth and reduces the accumulation of toxic material.

  • Animals that warned of danger: deer, monkey and squirrel.

The forest erupts in cacophony when there’s a large predator walking about. This was by far the most important cue for Jim, as he navigated dense vegetation to track the elusive Tiger and Leopard. Monkeys taking up a vantage point on the higher branches scan vast forest tracts for any signs of the elusive cats, while deer and antelopes rely more on their sense of smell than sight to raise a distress call in case predator is close by. Lending attentive ears to the medley of sounds of the forest helped find the individuals he was looking for.

  • Animals that maintained the balance in nature: tigers, leopards and wild dogs.

While such animals are most certainly renowned for their beauty and hunting ability, they are what we call animals at the top of the food chain. The role of such specialists maintain the ecological homeostasis. Without their hunting prowess, the forest would be decimated by the growing population of ungulates.

  • Animals that acted as scavengers: Hyaenas, jackals and pigs.

Akin to birds and other decomposers, these mammals are known for breaking down organic material and recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem. They have a keen sense of smell to seek out decaying carrion. Although, they face stiff completion from other hungry predators as well. 

Crawling Creatures

  • Venomous Snakes: In this group, he added cobras, kraits and vipers.

The species under this category are known to hunt their prey by using the venom generated within their bodies. The venom is typically administered on its victim with the injection of fangs. They also exhibit triangular shaped heads which has venom glands right behind the eyes. While Cobras and kraits produce a venom that is neurotoxic in nature, Vipers are known to develop hemotoxic venom

  • Non Venomous Snakes: python, grass snakes, and dhamin.

Unlike their venomous cousins, these snakes lank the venoms glands and have a more rounded jaw with slender heads, aiding them to devour their prey whole. Constrictor snakes such as the Indian Rock Python use a combination of temperature sensors and chemical receptors to stalk their prey. Some larger specimens are notorious to consume young wild pigs or a barking deer.

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