Billy Arjan Singh
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Kunwar "Billy" Arjan Singh (15 August 1917 – 1 January 2010) was an Indian hunter turned conservationist and author. He was the first who tried to reintroduce tigers and leopards from captivity into the wild.
Billy Arjan Singh died peacefully at his original farmhouse Jasbir Nagar on 1 January 2010.
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Kunwar "Billy" Arjan Singh was born in Gorakhpur on 15 August 1917 as the second son of Kunwar Jasbir Singh, CIE (1887–1942), a member of the royal Ahluwalia dynasty of Kapurthala. His grandfather was Raja Harnam Singh, Raja Maharaj Singh was his uncle, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was his aunt and his elder brother was Air Vice-Marshal Kunwar Jaswant Singh, PVSM (1915–1963) In 1940, Singh was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the British Indian Army and was posted to the south of Iraq. Upon his return to India he purchased a farm in the remote district of Lakhimpur Kheri and built himself a home – named in honour of his father – Jasbir Nagar. He settled down to a life of farming and hunting. Nearly ten years later, he also acquired an estate on the borders of the forestry reserve at Dudhwa. This came to be known as Tiger Haven and it is there that he lived for most of the rest of his life.
Hunter turned conservationist
Singh described how in his youth he had been an insatiable hunter. However, one day having shot a young leopard in the lights of his vehicle, he dramatically changed his view of hunting, feeling nothing but revulsion for killing and vowing that from then on he would pursue the cause of conservation. His first major project was to save a herd of barasingha in the neighbouring Sathiana range of the forestry reserve at Dudhwa. In 1976, he was awarded the World Wildlife Fund's Gold Medal, the WWF's premier award, for his conservation work. He was also largely responsible for persuading the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi to transform Dudhwa into a 200-square-mile (520 km2) national park.
Singh's work with wildlife is best known for his reintroduction of both leopards and tiger into the wild. He started by bringing up an orphaned male leopard cub, which he called Prince. Prince was successfully reintroduced to the wild in March 1973. To provide Prince with a mate he subsequently raised two female leopards cubs, Harriet and Juliette. While Juliette died because of poisoning, probably by local farmers; Harriet survived, eventually mated with Prince and delivered cubs. With Mrs. Gandhi's backing, Singh then brought a tigress cub – christened Tara – from an English zoo and reintroduced her successfully into the wild. This extraordinary experiment was well documented in his subsequent books as also in a film made by Anglia Survival. Tara successfully produced a litter of cubs. While some accused Singh of introducing Siberian tiger genes, he himself had little regard for such criticism, believing that it would have enhanced the local gene pool.
Re-introduction of tigers
In July 1976, Billy Arjan Singh acquired a hand-reared female tiger cub named Tara from Twycross Zoo in the United Kingdom, and reintroduced her to the wild in the Dudhwa National Park with the permission of India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In the 1990s, some tigers were observed in the protected area, which had a Siberian tiger phenotype of a large head, pale pelage, white complexion, and wide stripes, and were therefore suspected to be Bengal-Siberian tiger hybrids. Billy Arjan Singh sent hair samples of tigers from the area to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad where the samples were analysed using mitochondrial sequence analysis. Results revealed that the tigers in question had a Bengal tiger mitochondrial haplotype indicating that their mother was a Bengal tiger. Skin, hair and blood samples from 71 tigers collected in various Indian zoos, in the National Museum in Kolkata and including the two hair samples from Dudhwa National Park were prepared for microsatellite analysis that revealed that two tigers had alleles in two loci that were contributed by Bengal and Siberian tiger subspecies. However, samples of two hybrid specimens constituted a too small base to conclusively presume that Tara was the source of the Siberian tiger genes.
For his contributions to conservation, Arjan Singh was widely honoured. He received the Padma Shri in 1995, one of India's highest civilian national awards. In 1996, he was awarded the World Wildlife Gold Medal, and obtained the Order of the Golden Ark in 1997.
In 2004, Arjan Singh received the Getty Award, administered by the World Wildlife Fund, for his innovative contribution to conservation and for creating public awareness. In 2006, he received the Yash Bharati award and the Padma Bhushan two months later.
He also received the Lifetime Award for Tiger Conservation.
To ensure that his work in conservation continued, Singh established the Tiger Haven Society in 1992. The Society's aims include preserving Tiger Haven and sponsoring research into wildlife.
- Tiger Haven. Macmillan, London 1973; Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999
- Tara, a tigress. Quartet Books, London and New York 1981
- Prince of cats. Jonathan Cape, London 1982; Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2000
- Tiger! Tiger!. Jonathan Cape, London 1984 and 1986
- The legend of the maneater. Orient Longman, New Delhi 1993
- Arjan Singh's tiger book. (co-author) Lotus Collection, Roli Books, New Delhi 1998
- A tiger's story. HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi 1999; Tara-India Research Press, New Delhi 2005
- Eelie and the big cats. Oxford University Press, New Delhi and New York 2001
- Watching India's wildlife : the anthology of a lifetime. Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2003 and 2004
- Hart-Davies, D. 2005. Honorary tiger : the life of Billy Arjan Singh. Lotus Collection, Roli Books, New Delhi
- Shaminder Boparai, and A. Mookerjee (ed.) 2011. Billy Arjan Singh - Tiger of Dudhwa with support from WWF, Tiger Haven Society. HarperCollins, New Delhi
- Thapar, V. (2010) Obituary: Billy Arjan Singh HT Media Limited, 2 January 2010 online
- WWF The Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal online
- Singh, A. (1981). Tara, a tigress. Quartet Books, London and New York, ISBN 070432282X.
- Shankaranarayanan, P., Singh, L. (1998). "Mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence among big cats and their hybrids". Current Science 75 (9): 919–923.
- Shankaranarayanan, P., Banerjee, M., Kacker, R. K., Aggarwal, R. K. and Singh, L. (1997). "Genetic variation in Asiatic lions and Indian tigers". Electrophoresis 18 (9): 1693–1700. doi:10.1002/elps.1150180938. PMID 9378147.
- Menon, S. (1997). Tainted Royalty. India Today.
- WWF (2010). "Tiger hero: 'Billy' Arjan Singh". WWF, 4 January 2010.
- Atroley, A. (2006). "Billy Arjan Singh awarded Padma Bhushan.". WWF India, 30 March 2006.
- Tiger Haven Society
- Billy Arjan Singh's website. Google Cached
- Billy Arjan Singh awarded Padma Bhushan, WWF-India (Worldwide Fund for Nature – India), 30 Mar 2006
- Films and books by and about Billy Arjan Singh