David Shepherd is renowned internationally as one of the most gifted contemporary painters of wildlife. He follows in the tradition of wildlife painters such as Wilhelm Kuhnert (German, 1865-1926) both artists traveling widely throughout Africa and India sketching in the wild. However, Shepherd, unlike Kuhnert who was a big game hunter at the end of the 19th century and during the early 20th century, has also contributed significantly towards wildlife preservation.
Shepherd first visited Africa in 1949 when he went to Kenya with the intention of becoming a game warden. This ambition was not realised but he decided instead to become a painter and returned to England. In the 1950s he studied with Robin Goodwin and many of his early works were painted in London. His early works were mainly inspired by the mechanical age - including steam engines, cars and aircraft.
In 1960, Shepherd went again to Kenya with the Royal Air Force as an aviation artist in order to paint two aircraft pictures for the RAF officers' mess in Nairobi. It was this trip which encouraged him to turn to wildlife painting since the officers requested that he paint something other than the planes they flew each day. From then onwards, he has painted the wildlife of Africa, for which he has a deep admiration, as well as travelling extensively throughout the world to record endangered species in their natural habitat.
Shepherd's fascination with tigers started early and when he was eleven he won a childrens' painting competition with a drawing of a tiger. The Indian tiger has been a focus for the artist for over thirty years and he has frequently travelled to India in search of the endangered species. In 1973 the World Wildlife Fund launched Operation Tiger and Shepherd decided to run a limited edition of his painting Tiger Fire in order to benefit the fund. He raised £127,000 in six weeks. In 1975 he again donated a painting towards the cause when on another trip to India. He was awarded the Order of the Golden Ark by H.R.H. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands for his services to conservation and was awarded the OBE by H.M. the Queen in 1979.
Rathambhore Tiger Reserve is perhaps the best place in the world to sight a Tiger in the wild. It has had more Tiger sightings than any other National Park in the country. In 1972, when the Project Tiger was launched, Rathambhore was one of the original nine parks to be selected for tiger conservation and today spans over 1334 sq. km. In his autobiography Shepherd recounts his impressions when he visited the park in 1987,
'This lovely Park is some seventy miles from Jaipur and I just wish that more people knew about it. India has to promote that enormous potential that she has for developing her tourist industry, and her wildlife must be one of the main attractions. Far too many people think that all the wildlife worth seeing is in Africa. How wrong they are.
Rathambhore is a lovely unspoilt area of bush land and lakes, with an abundance of game, and at the latest count there were forty-four tigers. Moreover, there is an added bonus which has given the Park the name of 'Tiger City'. The tigers roam freely in the ruins of huge temples, palaces and rotundas. These were built hundreds of years ago by the Mogul emperors and the whole place presents the most romantic picture, the giant forest trees intertwining their roots in and out of the huge stone blocks of the crumbling frescoed walls. One is strongly reminded of Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book".
It was almost too easy to see tigers. Fateh Singh, who worked for the Indian Wildlife Service, was our host and his house was just outside the Park. Fateh is so full of fun that we hardly ever stopped laughing; but he was a vast knowledge of the bush. It was fascinating, for example, to watch him minutely examine the pug marks of a tigress in the dusty track, ascertaining when she had walked down the road and where she was going.
We arrived at Rathambhore in the early afternoon, after a seven-hour train journey from Delhi, and went straight to Fateh Singh's house. After a cup of tea, it was the early evening when he said, 'Let's just take a quick run into the Park to see if we can see some tigers.' We were soon in the jeep and some twenty minutes later were driving through the ancient fortress entrance to the Park. In another ten minutes, we had found three tigers lying right beside the road, taking absolutely no notice of us.'
(D. Shepherd, An Artist in Conservation, London, 1992, pp. 16-17).