Deforestation and loss of habitat for wild animals is a global issue that affects all regions. Particularly, this crisis is more apparent among populous developing countries like India since the growing population tends to encroach into wildlife reserves and begin cultivating crops. After this forest land is degraded after intensive cultivation, it is abandoned since its fertility would have been lost. Soon a flourishing forest would turned into an open wasteland where only weeds and shrubs grow.
According to the National Wasteland Development Board, wasteland means degraded land that is deteriorating for lack of appropriate water and soil management, which can be brought under vegetative cover with reasonable effort. Around 53 million hectares of such wasteland is lying underutilized across India.
Can such wasteland be made a home to wild animals by nurturing the forest? Of course yes!! Tree plantation can be effectively used for wasteland development, which has been proven by Pamela Malhotra and her husband Anil K Malhotra. This non-resident Indian couple had one thing particularly in common – their love for nature. On their honeymoon to Hawaii, they were struck by its beauty and decided to settle there. Staying in Hawaii, the couple learnt the value of forests and realized that despite threats of global warming no serious efforts were being made to save forests for the future.
Way back in 1986, the couple visited Haridwar for the funeral of Anil’s father and witnessed the rising pollution in such pristine foothills of the Himalayas. Then the couple decided to bring about change by reclaiming forests and fulfilling their lifelong dream. After selling off their property in Hawaii, they started searching for land in India, but they realized they could not find land in north India, so the search turned southwards. They bought 55 acres at the foothills of the Brahmagiri range in Karnataka’s Kodagu district and began afforestation work.
When the Malhotra couple first visited this degraded forest land, the owner was keen on selling the wasteland as he was unable to grow coffee or anything else. The couple were looking for such an ideal space and they soon bought the barren land. They allowed the forest to regenerate and they transformed this wasteland in Kodagu district into a private wildlife sanctuary. They named it ‘Save Animals Initiative’ Sanctuary or ‘SAI Sanctuary’, allowing nature to work its magic by planting native species where necessary.
The SAI Sanctuary is located deep in the Western Ghats ¬– the heart of the watershed area for the entire South Indian peninsula. The region is also one of the top ‘Biodiversity Hot Spots’ in the world, as designated by the United Nations, and its positive influence is felt across many surrounding national parks and wildlife sanctuaries such as Madhumalai, Nagarhole and Bandipur.
Pamela and Anil Malhotra have spent the last 25 years buying wasteland that was no longer wanted by farmers, which proved to be home to several wild animals that live in harmony today. From the initial purchase of just 55 acres of private forested lands in 1991, the SAI Sanctuary has grown to 300 acres, which now draws naturalists and scientists doing research.
The sanctuary’s rich flora and fauna include hundreds of different indigenous trees and medicinal plants as well as numerous rare species of animals – river otters, civet cats, giant Malabar squirrels, lesser loris, various types of deer, monkeys, and snakes (including king cobra), Indian wild dogs, jackals, leopards, elephants, and tigers, along with over 300 different kinds of birds frequenting its forest canopy as well. Many of these species of both flora and fauna are found nowhere else on the planet.