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Billy Arjan Singh

1917 – 2010

Billy-arjan-Singh with tiger

About Billy Arjan Singh

Billy Arjan Singh, was an Indian hunter turned conservationist and author. He was the First who tried to reintroduce tigers and leopards from captivity into the wild.

Kunwar Billy Arjan Singh was born in Gorakhpur and in 1940, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the British Indian Army. He was posted to the south of Iraq but on his return to India he purchased a farm in the remote district of a Lakhimpur Kheri and built himself a home. 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 was here that he lived most of his life.

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 neighboring 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, Indira Gandhi, to transform Dudhwa into a 200-square-mile (520 km2) national park.

Singh’s conservation efforts for wildlife are best known for his reintroduction of leopards and a tiger into the wild of Dudhwa National Park.

He started by bringing up an orphaned male leopard cub named Prince, which he successfully reintroduced to the wild in 1973. To provide Prince with a mate he subsequently raised two orphaned female leopards cubs, Harriet and Juliette. In July 1976, he 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 analyzed 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 honored. 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.

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.

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