How would you feel if you woke up one fine morning and found yourself amid a vast stretch of lush green landscape, the chirping of birds and rustling of leaves being your constant companion? As dreamy as it might sound, there is one couple in India who has managed to make this dream a reality. Meet Pamela Malhotra and Anil K Malhotra, who spent about 25 years of their lives purchasing barren farmlands and then converting them into a sprawling 300 acres of wildlife sanctuary. Named as the Save Animals Initiative (SAI) Sanctuary, it is located in Brahmagiri near the Western Ghats, and is the first private sanctuary of India.
As Pamela reveals, both her husband and she are extremely passionate about nature and wildlife and the appalling state in which forests and greenlands in India are simply disappoints them. It all started in 1986 when Anil, a then resident of the United States, came to India with his wife to attend his father’s funeral. They were left speechless when they witnessed the pollution in Haridwar and it was then that they decided to do something about it. Five years later, the couple bought the first land in the Kodagu district in Karnataka, which was just an area of 55 acres. But due to their persistent love for nature, they continued expanding the land by purchasing more and more unused areas. Today, the then meagre 55 acres has been expanded to 300 acres of lush vegetation, which is home to several rare species of animals, birds and plants like Bengal Tigers, Asian Elephants, hyena, Sambhar, leopards, wild boars, etc.
The couple recall that their journey to this day was not very smooth. Initially they had tried to acquire lands in the northern parts of the country, but failed due to unavailability and also as the law was not in their favour. That is when they decided to move south and despite a lot of people warning them about the consequences and the lack of financial returns, they did not stop. Another major hurdle was the lack of fresh water in the country. When they purchased their first piece of land and started afforestation in those parts, they saw that there was a stream which ran through the land. While one side of that river belonged to them, the other side was not free from pollution due to the continuous use of pesticides by farmers in those regions. So they continued buying more and more land on the other side of the stream whenever they became available. They had to sell their property abroad to carry out the afforestation on their lands. There were legal issues involved in the purchase as most of the farmers had debts to settle.
Another major trouble the couple experienced was poaching by local residents on their lands. Making the people aware of their endeavours and how nature benefits humankind was a struggle they had to face. Although people were receptive to their concepts, it took time for them to adjust to the new ideas and methods. They even had to relocate a temple in order to keep the people away from the wildlife. Preaching about how the people worship Gods like Hanuman and Ganesha but slaughter animals also worked. They also worked with the forest department to install CCTV cameras and keep an eye on poachers and hunters.
Today, the Malhotras get a lot of help from trustees to maintain the sanctuary. They also keep trying to convince bigger companies to buy wastelands and convert them into rich wildlife. The SAI Sanctuary has been awarded with the “Wildlife and Tourism Initiative of the Year” in 2014. The Malhotras keep trying to make people aware about how they should all try and conserve nature and how not doing so can affect our lives in the long run.