On Friday, 1st January 2010, the news of the passing on of Kunwar Arjan Singh, better known as “Billy” Arjan Singh came as a shock to people across the globe. He was 92 and stayed at his farm house turned home, Tiger Haven at Lakhimpur Kheri near the Dudhwa National Park around 250 kms from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. He passed on due to infirmities of old age.
A reformed hunter, he spent most of his life for the conservation of tigers in India. It was only due to his efforts that the 900 sq. km. of forest was converted into Dudhwa National Park.
In an interview with Bittu Sahgal, a tiger conservationist and editor of Sanctuary magazine he was asked if he wanted to be remembered as a body-builder, a reformed hunter, a foster-father to an infamous tiger, or a thorn in the side of the Uttar Pradesh forest department to which his humble reply was “I want simply to be remembered as Arjan Singh, a man who loved tigers and fought to keep them alive and safe from humans.”
Who Was He?
Kunwar Arjan Singh was born in Gorakhpur on August 15th 1917 as the second son of Kunwar Jasbir Singh, a member of the royal Ahluwalia dynasty of Kapurthala. His grandfather, Harnam Singh was the brother of the then king, Raja Maharaj Singh. He joined the British army in 1940 as Second Lieutenant and fought in the second world war, retiring as Lieutenant in 1946.
On his return to India, he bought a farm near the Dudhwa National Park and made it his official residence, Tiger Haven. It is at this farm where he bred the famous Tara, a tigress he got from the Twycross Zoo in England in 1976.
1. 1995 – Padma Shri (Indian civilian decoration for distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity)
2. 1996 – World Wildlife Gold Medal
3. 1997 – Order of the Golden Ark (established by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands as an order of merit)
4. 1999 – Lifetime Achievement Award for Tiger Conservation
5. 2005 – J.Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Award (a global honour administered by the World Wildlife Fund)
6. 2006 – Padma Bhushan (Indian civilian decoration for distinguished service of a high order to the nation)
7. 2006 – Yash Bharti Award (conferred by the Uttar Pradesh Government)
Books & Films
Over the years Singh authored a lot of books and was mentioned in many films. They are chronologically mentioned below.
Books by Arjan Singh:
1. 1973 – Tiger Haven
2. 1981 – Tara A Tigress
3. 1982 – Prince of Cats
4. 1984 – Tiger! Tiger!
5. 1987 – Eelie and the Big Cats
6. – 1998 – Tiger Book
7. 1999 – A Tiger’s Story
8. 2003 – Watching India’s Wildlife
Books about Arjan Singh:
1. 2005 – Honorary Tiger: The life of Billy Arjan Singh (Duff Hart-Davis)
Films about Billy Arjan Singh:
1. Leopard of the Wild (The Leopard That Changed It’s Spots)
2. Tiger, Tiger
3. The Fire of Thine Eyes
He was indeed a great man and his efforts will never be forgotten.
This is my tribute to Arjan Singh, a man who loved tigers, and who fought to keep them alive and safe from humans.
Please Note: I have on purpose left out any details about the controversies that Billy Arjan Singh faced over the years as I think it is more important for everyone to know about his achievements rather than his so called “failures.”