Anil & Pamela Gale Malhotra created reputedly the largest non-governmentally managed wildlife sanctuary in India
Anil Malhotra, 80, died on November 22, 2021 at the SAI (Save Animals Initiative) Sanctuary he and his wife Pamela Gale Malhotra cofounded in 1991 at Theralu Village & Post, South Kodagu, Karnataka state, India.
Posted Pamela Gale Malhotra to Facebook, “Losing Anil, my life partner of 45 years in marriage and 48 years since we first met––has been devastating.
“Anil was not ill,” Pamela Gale Malhotra wrote. “We walked around the sanctuary together just a few days earlier, and spent hours with a film crew the day/evening before he passed away. He stayed up late with me doing final edits for my autobiography that is to be released in January 2022. He woke as normal, bathed, did his meditation and prayers. It was saying the Lord’s Name that he had a sudden major heart attack. I came in a few seconds after the attack and did CPR, but could not revive Anil, my rainbow man.”
Met in New Jersey
Wrote Prathima Nandakumar for The Week, “The conservationist couple met in New Jersey. Anil, who grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas, studied at the Doon School in Dehradun, and attended the Shivaji Military School in Pune, before graduating from St Xavier’s College, Bombay, the Government Law College, and the London Institute of Bankers. He went to the U.S. to meet his family after securing a Ph.D. in politics from the University of Hamburg, Germany.
In the U.S., Nandakumar continued, “Anil, who owned an Indian restaurant, met Pamela, who was a working partner in a cafe. Anil married Pamela—who holds a double major in politics from University of Colorado—and settled down in Hawaii, as the couple fell in love with the place on their honeymoon.”
Filled in Rakhi Chakraborty for YourStory.com in December 2017, “Pamela grew up on the east coast of the U.S. on a small farm that bordered the vast estate of a rich man. She spent her childhood roaming his estate and befriending woodland creatures.
“She met Anil while she was home from college for holidays. After college, Pamela landed a job with a pharmaceutical firm which required her to move to Denver, Colorado.
“Anil gave up his restaurant and started on a career in banking, so he could be with Pamela.”
Appalled by the environmental damage they saw from logging and strip-mining, the Malhotras decided to forgo having children, and instead saved their money toward developing a forest sanctuary.
They tried first in Hawaii.
“They bought a chunk of land in Hawaii and began their efforts at conservation,” Chakraborty recounted. “They practiced organic farming on a small part of the land. This was for their own consumption and not for commercial purposes. They donated the excess produce to a local women’s shelter. They assiduously afforested the rest of the land and avoiding interfering with any wildlife activity.
“Meanwhile, to supplement their finances, they undertook various real estate restoration projects in their spare time. It was a hard but richly rewarding life,” Chakraborty wrote, but development of surrounding land meant the Malhotras’ attempts to preserve habitat were not successful.
Back in the Himalayas, “Anil’s father was on his deathbed,” Chakraborty continued.
In 1986 the Malhotras flew to India to be with him.
“Anil’s father passed away soon after the couple’s arrival in India,” Chakraborty said. “Pamela and Anil visited Haridwar to scatter his ashes in the Ganga. They were entranced by the beauty of the Himalayas and resolved to have their sanctuary in Uttarakhand.”
Giving up their Hawaiian ambitions, “They bought acreage in Uttarkashi,” Chakraborty narrated.
They “founded a nonprofit organization, Himalaya Seva Dal, to protect forest and wildlife and to empower local women and children,” Nandakumar resumed.
However, Chakraborty noted, “The Land Ceiling Act prohibits individuals from owning more than 12 acres of land in north India. This proved to be too restrictive for their sanctuary dreams. Moreover, they saw a repeat pattern of the events in Hawaii. Mass tourism and illegal construction all around ensured that animals would never seek sanctuary on their land.”
The Uttarkashi sanctuary project lasted just five years.
Succeeded on third try
But the Malhotras did not give up. About 1,750 miles straight south, in the rainforests of the Western Ghats, Chakraborty said, “They discovered vast coffee and cardamom plantations in Kodagu that had been rendered barren because of decades of destructive agricultural practices. Many such farms were mortgaged to the hilt, their owners deep in debt.”
In 1991, “Pamela and Anil acquired about 55 acres of barren land to give their dreams a go for the third time. SAI Sanctuary was born,” Chakraborty finished.
The SAI Sanctuary gradually expanded up to 300 acres as the Malhotras acquired neighboring properties from farmers eager to get out of a quagmire of debt.
Green energy & biodiversity
The SAI Sanctuary “uses green energy systems (solar panels and windmills) and has eco-friendly buildings,” Nandakumar observed. “It also has a beautiful river in the middle that is home to several aquatic species like fishes and snakes.
“Today, the private sanctuary in Theralu Village, near the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, is home to 24 species of mammals, including elephants, tigers, leopards, dhole (Indian wild dog), various types of deer,” among them sambar and chital, “the giant Malabar squirrel, the Nilgiri marten and river otters,” Nandakumar said.
“There are 105 species of birds, 50 species of snakes—including king cobras, vipers and kraits—102 species of butterflies, and 46 varieties of native trees.
About 10-12 acres remain in coffee production, along with “around 15 acres of cardamom,” according to Nandakumar.
The coffee and cardamom trees provide habitat to bird species that are dependent on their berries and seeds.
“First came the grasses”
At least four baby elephants have been born at SAI Sanctuary, Pamela Gale Malhotra told Chakraborty. Among the resident species Nandakumar did not mention are jungle cats, jackals, and wild boar.
Restoring the SAI Sanctuary habitat took mainly patience, the Malhotras explained.
“First came the grasses,” Pamela Gale Malhotra said. “They came in thick. Then smaller shrubs. With them, the insects returned. Then , with the trees, came the monkeys and elephants. It took a lot of care, energy, time, and effort to bring them back. People thought we were crazy, but that’s okay. A lot of people thought that those who did amazing things are crazy.”
“Earth is only a microdot”
“We use our sanctuary as a living laboratory,” Pamela Gale Malhotra finished. “It is a way for people to see how Mother Nature, if given half a chance, will regenerate herself.
“The problem is, we expect the government to do everything. Like-minded people, nonprofit organizations, and other agencies should purchase land and do their own bit to conserve wildlife.”
Said Anil Malhotra, “In the lap of mother nature, you realize the earth is only a microdot in the universe.”