Kunwar Arjan Singh, better known to big cat-lovers as Billy Arjan Singh, stirred the conservation world to an agitated and impassioned debate when he hand-reared a tigress, Tara, procured from a breeder in England, and released her in the wilds of Tiger Haven, his estate in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district, bordering the Dudhwa National Park.
It was not enough that Tara was repeatedly the target of man-eater canards. Some conservationists pointed out that in Singh’s zeal to emulate Joy Adamson’s Born Free experiment, he had polluted the Royal Bengal Tiger’s gene pool. Some DNA studies among tigers in Dudhwa have confirmed traces of Siberian Tiger DNA in the population at Dudhwa.
Belligerent, dogged and controversial, Singh defied armchair conservationism and gleaned a great deal of firsthand field knowledge from his experiences with big cats, which he published in a number of books, most memorably Tiger Haven, Tiger! Tiger!, Tara – A Tigress and Prince of Cats. His dog Eelie, his constant companion in those experiments, is the subject of another book, Eelie and the Big Cats.
He has also been widely written about, though a recent biography Honorary Tiger by Duff Hart-Davis pays a very mawkish and shoddy tribute to his awe-inspiring personality.
Singh was awarded the Padma Shri in 1997, the World Wildlife Gold Medal in 1996 and the J Paul Getty Prize for Conservation in 2004.
As a chronicler of big cat stories, Billy Arjan Singh merits a place along with Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson. As a conservationist, his methods were controversial. That said, he was a legend in his own lifetime and did a great deal for the conservation of habitat that shelters the tiger and some of the last herds of Swamp Deer (Cervus duvaucelii) in the terai region along the India-Nepal border.
Billy Arjan Singh passed away on January 1, 2010. He was 93.