I once met a screenwriter who “worked on” (in Hollywood, screenwriters are often brought in like carpenters to add on an addition or just some crown molding) the script for the movie “The Ghost and The Darkness,” a 1996 film based on the classic book “The Lions of Tsavo” by John Henry Patterson. He was writing a screenplay on my father’s book, and I was young and loved the parts played by Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas in “The Ghost and The Darkness.” It was a rare modern movie where hunters aren’t cast lower than zombie scat. So I was leaping like a Jack Russell terrier as I asked him questions. He shooed me away as he said the film was just “lions cast as Jaws.” He then shrugged and smugly told me he really wanted to be a director. I was in college at the time. It’s a disillusioning thing for a young man to find out things are really what they seem. Poof, all the aura, the mystery was gone. All that was left was this slouching guy who had my dream job glibly staring at the hardwood floor.
With the conversation sunk under the waves of his reality, I asked if he’d ever read Jim Corbett’s 1954 classic “Man-Eaters of Kumaon“?
He hadn’t. I’d worn the binding out of a copy when I was a teen. So I told him about how Corbett, a colonel in the British Indian Army who had often been tasked with hunting down man-eating tigers, had hunted down 33 man-eaters. Accounts say these tigers (and a few leopards) killed more than 1,200 people before Corbett showed with his bolt-action rifle and hunting prowess. The first tiger he killed, the Champawat Tiger, is said to be responsible for 436 deaths. Each hunt for a man-eater is a riveting, personal essay on how Corbett managed to slay a beast that had turned to eating humans. One he called in as darkness was descending in the bush; another he tracked and killed as it was sleeping only feet from him. He thought that unsportsmanlike, but justified it because if he gave the tiger a chance and it got away, it would likely kill more people. By comparison the book “The Lions of Tsavo” is a dry, rarely amusing, account written in a stodgy, old British travel-journal style.
This had the wannabe Hollywood director’s attention. He carefully wrote down the title of the book. I’ve long wondered if he’d ever tried to write and perhaps direct a screenplay on “Man-Eaters of Kumaon.” But then I suppose making one movie with hunters cast as heroes was more than Hollywood could stomach.
I relate all this because Safari Club International (SCI) has announced that its 2016 Hunters’ Convention at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, Feb. 3-6, will showcase a rifle that was presented to Corbett in 1907. It was given to him for shooting the man-eating tigress of Champawat, India, by Sir John Hewett, then the Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces. The .275 rifle is now owned by Rigby and held in the company’s collection in London. Corbett went on to use the rifle in some of the hunts in his book “Man-Eaters of Kumaon.”