The Couple Who Coaxed 300 Acres of Barren Farmland Back Into Lush Forest

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©. Great Big Story

After 25 years of collecting land farmers no longer wanted, the husband and wife now play host to elephants, monkeys and creatures of all stripes.

While in all too many places on the planet we’re bearing witness to distressing levels of habitat destruction, it’s beyond heartening to know that in a very special spot in India, the scene is happening in reverse.

In 1991, Pamela Gale and Anil Malhotra, purchased a 55-acre plot of abandoned farmland in India’s Southern Ghats, as we wrote about last year. From there they slowly began purchasing more parcels of barren land where rice, coffee and cardamom once grew. Fast-forward to today, and you might never know that it wasn’t a biodiversity hotspot all along. There are at least 60 different species of trees; green things thrive and reach for the sky, the air is thick with the raspy harmonics of cicada, and creatures from elephants to leopards and tigers roam freely in this newfound expanse of Eden. Welcome to the SAI (Save Animals Initiative) Sanctuary.

In a new short film by CNN’s Great Big Story about the Malhotras and their inspiring work, Pamela explains, “First came the grasses, they came in thick. Then smaller shrubs; with them the insects returned. Then the trees, and with the trees, the monkeys and elephants.”

“People thought we were quite crazy,” she says later, “but that’s ok.”


© milestothewild

Hailed as India’s first private wildlife sanctuary, SAI and preserves elsewhere are bright spots in a world in which the persistent march of mankind is at odds with nature. It’s hard to escape the hopeful vision of more and more of these convalesced stretches of land eventually meeting up, their borders touching to create massive expanses of untamed wilderness.

For her work, Pamela was recently (and “most unexpectedly,” she told me in a letter) awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar (Women’s Power Award) from the President of India at the Presidential Palace for her conservation/environment work and work for empowerment of women.

You can meet the Malhotras and see the exquisite beauty of SAI sanctuary in the wonderful new video below. Although to my nature-deprived City Girl eyes it looks lush as can be, Pamela tells me that the footage was shot at the start of the dry season and thus things look a bit dry compared to monsoon/post monsoon. “Post monsoon is my personal favourite time of year here,” she says, “but it is beautiful in every season for sure!”