Billy Arjan Singh fought to save the tiger from extinction. The Dudhwa National Park, one of the finest parks in the country today, is his brainchild .

It is the season of migrations, but this little bird which flew into our forest from the Dudhwa brought us sad news. New Year's Day in their part of the world saw the passing away of a beloved ‘Honorary Tiger' Billy Arjan Singh.

Who is Billy Arjan Singh, you might ask. Wild wanderer, tireless crusader for the cause of the jungle folk, Billy spent some 60 of his 92 years of life, fighting to save tigers from disappearing.

Let me tell you his story. Billy was born in a Sikh royal family (didn't I say ‘honorary' tiger?) in 1917 and grew up in pre-independent India when gaming was a big sport. As a boy, he was, by his own admission ‘bloodthirsty and murderous'. He shot his first leopard at the age of 12 and his first tiger at 14! Now you must think I've lost my mind writing an ode to an animal killer, but read on.

When he grew up, he briefly served in the British army and before settling down to a farmer's life in Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. He continued to hunt until one fateful night he shot and killed a leopard in the light of his jeep. Seeing the helpless animal die a slow, painful death before his very eyes, Billy swore that he would never hunt again. From then on, Billy became protector and guardian angel of the denizens of the wild.

Protector of the wild

Billy decided to move up country, closer to the jungles he so loved. At the edge of the Dudhwa grasslands bordering Nepal, he made his home which he called Tiger Haven. There he remained, writing books, taking up cudgels for animal folk, fighting poachers and establishment alike, becoming a citizen of the wild. Mrs Indira Gandhi who was then Prime Minister shared his passion for animals and thus was born Dudhwa National Park which is one of the finest parks in our country today.

I have saved the best for last. A tale I grew up hearing from my mother; the story of Tara, the ‘ foreign' tigress. Billy had this truly wild idea to adopt a tiger from a zoo and release it into the wild. With the blessings of Mrs. Gandhi, he managed to get a female tiger cub from a zoo in England. He named her Tara, took her to the jungles and taught her lessons just like our mothers teach us. When she was around two, she finally left to live in the Dudhwa forests.

But the forest officials never liked Billy and resented this ‘foreign' invasion of our forests. Tara, they said was not a pure bred Bengal Tiger but a Siberian mix. Saying that Tara would destroy the purity of Bengal Tigers, they wanted to put an end to her. An officer claimed Tara had turned maneater. He then killed a tigress thinking she was Tara. But it wasn't. Tara lived many years in the wild and had several cubs. The forest guys wanted to kill them all just because they weren't pure bred. Thankfully, they did not succeed. As if poacher trouble wasn't enough! This was why Billy wanted a separate Wildlife force to protect us animals. The forest folk can look after the jungles, he said but someone else should take care of the animals. Is anybody listening? Billy lives on in the hearts of every one of us jungle folk, a truly honorary tiger. R.I.P. Billy.

Keep the mails coming to sherook@wildmail.com

A Children for Nature and Animals Unlimited Initiative (CANU)

Wild and wonderful

Billy brought up an orphaned leopard cub whom he named Prince and later on two female ones, Juliette and Harriet. These he allowed to roam freely in his home. As Prince grew up, he left for his true home, the wild. Unfortunately, both Juliette and Harriet were poisoned by locals.

Along with his elephant Bhagwan Piari, Billy once drove a herd of endangered Barasingha deer to the safety of Dudhwa from the neighbouring Dhola forests where poachers and land sharks were threatening their existence.