In the heart of the Kodagu district, India, lies the SAI Sanctuary – a paradise for native wildlife and plants. However, the sanctuary was not always the lush green forest that it is today. When Pamela Gale Malhotra and her husband, Anil Malhotra, bought the land in 1991, it was a barren wasteland, void of life.
“When we first came here, most of the lands that were sold to us, were abandoned lands,” Pamela told Great Big Story. “Abandoned rice fields, coffee, and cardamom fields as well. A lot of deforestation had taken place. And that took a lot, a lot of care and energy and time and years to bring it back.”
The Kodagu district has been a victim of deforestation, resulting in a dramatic decrease in forest cover in the last five decades – from 86% in the 1970s to 16% today. The couple bought the land and begun the large venture in an effort to help protect the world’s forests. The health of the world’s forests plays a key role in our fight against climate change, drought, soil pollution and greenhouse gases.
“Protecting what is left of the world’s forests is the only thing that will ensure our own survival,” Pamela says. “Forests are directly responsible for rainfall, our primary source of water. Water, in turn, is the lifeline for plants, flowers, animals, birds and humans. We have nothing if not for our forests.”
“Reforestation is nothing but large-scale gardening. When we bought our first parcel of land in India, it was just the two of us and 55 acres [22 hectares] of forest beside the Poddani River. We learnt from experience that if you want to protect a piece of land, you need to secure both sides of its water source. And here we both are 25 years later, managing 300 acres [121 hectares] on both sides of the river,” said Pamela.
The SAI Sanctuary, which covers over 300 acres, is home to more than 200 globally endangered species of plants and animals, including 300 species of birds, civet cats, lesser loris, foxes, leopards, Asian elephants, royal Bengal tigers and various types of monkeys and deer.
Today, the sanctuary works with local communities to protect the wildlife and the sanctuary. Travelers can visit the sanctuary and stay on-site in one of the two cottages that the Malhotra’s have built alongside the main house in which they live. By hiring neighbors and outsourcing their facilities, the money brought in by the eco-tourism is shared by the communities in the area.
Due to their extensive knowledge, the couple also act as guides, taking visitors on walking safari tours of the land. “We both feel a tremendous amount of joy when we walk through the sanctuary,” said Pamela. “I’ve never felt this kind of joy in anything else that I’ve done in my life.”
Pamela hopes the sanctuary will continue to expand, and help restore and protect both the sanctuary and the surrounding environment.