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M.K. Ranjitsinh

HONORARY TIGER: THE LIFE OF BILLY ARJAN SINGH
By Duff Hart Davis
Roli Books, Delhi, 2005, pp. 224, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 4 April 2007

Billy Arjan Singh is an icon in the annals of Indian wildlife conservation. His contribution to the creation of the Dudhwa National Park and subsequently to the establishment of a Tiger Reserve there has been immense. His commitment to the cause is unquestionable. If he has had a failing it is that he did not extend his zeal to the rest of Uttar Pradesh and India. Numerous books have been written by him and about him. Honorary Tiger is a welcome addition to the ranks.   The book ancedotes in some detail the fascinating life-story of Arjan Singh. His lineage descending from the princely house of Kapurthala; the conversion to Christianity; the stewardship of the estate of Balrampur by Billy's father and his first introduction to shikar and wild animals; his acquaintance with Jim Carbett; his tempestuous stint in the army and subsequent efforts in farming are all well accounted. Then comes the conversion of the man. One would have preferred to read more about the saving of the Ghola barasingha herd, perhaps the single greatest contribution of Billy. But the raising of the leopard cubs Prince and Harriett and of the zoo born tigeress Tara, to adulthood and freedom, are described at length. An objective analysis of the success or otherwise and the value of these unique ventures of introducing hand-reared carnivores into the wild, would have been of value. It would have also have raised the question whether such introductions could have been attempted by persons less qualified and dedicated than Billy. Nonetheless, the accounts do reveal interesting facets of Prince giving up the 'kill' to his smaller companion the dog Eelie; of the house-reared Harriett killing a boy, of Prince attacking Billy himself. The nemesis of man-eating which always makes interesting 'copy' and which is stated to have claimed in Kheri district alone 200 humans and 13 Tigers--actually 33 were killed--all add to interest of the story. Described in detail is the controversy over the introduction into the wild and the survival of Tara the tigress and the raging conflict with the bureaucracy--in particular with forest officials like R.L. Singh, S.R. Choudhary, H.S Panwar and others, underlining Billy's singlemindedness of purpose.   The author's relative unfamiliarity with aspects of wildlife and of India and the inability to cross-check and reconfirm a narrative which is almost entirely derived from Billy and his relatives, is reflected in a number of instances. ...


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