In Karnataka’s Kodagu district, a 300-acre privately-owned forest is being protected and allowed to regenerate by a couple, as a safe-home for wildlife and indigenous plants. The couple, Pamela and Anil Malhotra, came to India from the United States with a dream. They bought the land bit by bit until the Save Animals Initiative Sanctuary Trust became a reality.
The Malhotras embarked on a journey to save at least a section of Kodagu’s precious forests. The couple, married for over 40 years, settled on Kodagu for their forest sanctuary dream in the early 1990s. This birthplace of the river Cauvery has seen major deforestation. But the private forest area is now being allowed to return to nature. The rainforest is next to the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary.
Talking to NDTV, Pamela Malhotra, 65, said, “Our border goes up to the sanctuary. So we add 1.2 square km of buffer zone of forest. The wildlife can come here and be undisturbed. They are safe. We have actually seen our sanctuary turn into a creche, where the wildlife is flourishing. We have all kinds of birds here. Over the last six to eight years, we have had four elephant calves born here. We have rare leopard cats breeding here. We have sambar, cheetal etc who are coming here to give brith.”
Camera traps spread around the sanctuary have captured a wide variety of beautiful creatures. Wild otters which are disappearing from Kodagu, feel safe here, she said. Pamela was delighted when she spotted a group of eight to 10 otters playing in the stream near Hosur. “I shot a great video of one of them just paddling around, enjoying himself. It was a happy picture. It wasn’t hunting, it was just playing in the water. It is a privilege to be able to protect the forest, the habitat and the wildlife that depends on it,” she said.
Anil Malhotra, 73, was born in India and headed to the West where he met his future wife, a New Jersey girl. After they got married, they settled in Hawaii. But when Mr Malhotra’s father became ill and they returned to India. They lived in the Himalayan foothills for a while and nursed a dream of creating a forest sanctuary. The land ceiling rules in what was then Uttar Pradesh allowed them only 12 acres, which wasn’t big enough for their dreams. So they came to south.
He said, “When I researched I found that the Western Ghats were the source of all streams and rivers for all of south India and Maharashtra. And Coorg was the heart of the Western Ghats. What I was looking for was perennial water. When I came and saw this land, I immediately called her and said, ‘Babe, we have found our piece’.”
Though it was complicated to buy land in Coorg, the duo managed to finally get what they had in mind. “Little did I realise how complicated purchasing land in Coorg is. All the white hair is due to all that!” Anil said.
The sanctuary is a registered as a non-profit trust. But it does, of course, require a considerable amount of capital to buy so much land that is not being put to commercial use. Mr Malhotra says it was time for corporates to get involved in the project.
He said, “I invite corporates and people with means to join us before it is too late.”
The couple feels comfortable in the company of the animals and birds here. Pamela said, “There have definitely been times when I have said, ‘I give up! I give up!’ That has happened, believe me. What has got me through those times besides my husband and his comfort and his support has been coming out here. And the minute I come out to this… it has all been worth it. It has all been worth it.”