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A Large Canvas


By A.J.T. Johnsingh
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2004, pp. 139, Rs. 295.00


Jim Corbett the intrepid destroyer of man eating tigers, is a figure writ large in the annals of Indian Natural History. He had a rare quality among shikaris of being able to record his adventures lucidly for posterity. His works have inspired many an urban armchair conservationist and few who work in the field. The author of the present work falls under the latter category.   Johnsingh’s childhood inspiration was Tamil translations of Corbett’s works the contents of which were to stay with him to the present day. It took him from his native South to Dehra Dun and a noteworthy career in teaching and field research spanning more than three decades. The present offering is not a terse report in field zoology, but it is a collection of remarkably readable vignettes of his life in the jungle. Being a selection of his writings, it is obviously not exhaustive but it whets the appetite of the reader. In ten chapters Johnsingh gives us a sampling of what the Indian forests have still to offer inspite of all human depredations.   As the title of the book suggests the author has spent a considerable amount of his energies tracing Corbett’s footsteps. What he finds some 70 years later is a fragmented degraded habitat and a severe decline of the faunal wealth in them. His concern highlights the decline of the flagship species whose errant members were the main preoccupation of his inspirer. He writes: From our journey in the tracks of Corbett’s kills, it is apparent that over the decades the status of tiger and its prey species has declined dramatically all over…the entire range of the tiger.   Such is the story too of the elephant. He notes how constant poaching of males has drastically reduced the gene pool in Periyar Reserve and how the Corbett National Park itself, which was believed to be largely safe from poachers, witnessed the brutal killing of eight tuskers in its very core area in January-February 2001.   Johnsingh is at his best while describing the dhole or the Indian wild dog. He studied the animal for his Ph.D. and dispels many a conventionally held belief regarding the animal. Believed until recently to be a senseless destroyer of prey species and shot as vermin for which the government paid a cash reward, it is in fact an animal which lives in a pack with ...

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