Photos: Step into India’s private forests

  • In a country with only 5% of its land area protected as forests, and even that shrinking, a few individuals are acting on their own. It’s a simple but radical solution. They buy land, uproot invasive plant species, replace them with native ones, and then let nature take over. The result: lush private forests that act as green lungs and, in many cases, as extensions of wildlife sanctuaries and reserves. Tigers stop by. Elephants give birth. Otters play in the streams. Take a look…
Updated On Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST
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A tiger rests in the private forest nurtured by Aditya Singh and Poonam Singh in Bhadlav, Rajasthan. The big cats stay sometimes for four or five days, an indication that they feel safe here.(Photo: Aditya Dicky Singh)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

A tiger rests in the private forest nurtured by Aditya Singh and Poonam Singh in Bhadlav, Rajasthan. The big cats stay sometimes for four or five days, an indication that they feel safe here.(Photo: Aditya Dicky Singh)

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Aditya, 55, and Poonam, 52, left their lives in Delhi behind to answer the call of the wild. They settled in Sawai Madhopur, the town closest to the Ranthambore tiger reserve, in 1998, and slowly started acquiring farmland abutting the reserve. They then let nature take over.(Photo: Aditya Dicky Singh)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

Aditya, 55, and Poonam, 52, left their lives in Delhi behind to answer the call of the wild. They settled in Sawai Madhopur, the town closest to the Ranthambore tiger reserve, in 1998, and slowly started acquiring farmland abutting the reserve. They then let nature take over.(Photo: Aditya Dicky Singh)

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An aerial view of the result: one of the patches owned by the Singhs stands out amid the farmland in Bhadlav. The patch shows a clear distinction in growth patterns. “The trees on the borders grow first, because that part is usually left uncultivated,” says Aditya. “They form natural borders.”(Photo: Aditya Dicky Singh)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

An aerial view of the result: one of the patches owned by the Singhs stands out amid the farmland in Bhadlav. The patch shows a clear distinction in growth patterns. “The trees on the borders grow first, because that part is usually left uncultivated,” says Aditya. “They form natural borders.”(Photo: Aditya Dicky Singh)

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Camera traps on the privately owned SAI (Save Animals Initiative) Sanctuary in Kodagu, Karnataka, capture all the wildlife that strolls in and out, from the Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary next door. These 255-acres of former coffee and cardamom fields are now an extension of Brahmagiri. Seen here is a sambar fawn with her mother.(Photo courtesy SAI Sancturary)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

Camera traps on the privately owned SAI (Save Animals Initiative) Sanctuary in Kodagu, Karnataka, capture all the wildlife that strolls in and out, from the Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary next door. These 255-acres of former coffee and cardamom fields are now an extension of Brahmagiri. Seen here is a sambar fawn with her mother.(Photo courtesy SAI Sancturary)

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Pamela Malhotra, 69, and Anil Kumar Malhotra, 78, bought the first 55 acres of what is now SAI Sanctuary in 1992. They had been looking to sustain a forest of their own.(Photo courtesy SAI Sancturary)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

Pamela Malhotra, 69, and Anil Kumar Malhotra, 78, bought the first 55 acres of what is now SAI Sanctuary in 1992. They had been looking to sustain a forest of their own.(Photo courtesy SAI Sancturary)

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The Malhotras live in the heart of the plot, their living quarters fuelled by wind, solar power and biogas. Out of respect for the animals, they traverse their property on foot. Their only interference involves checking on the camera traps and water bodies.(Photo courtesy SAI Sanctuary)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

The Malhotras live in the heart of the plot, their living quarters fuelled by wind, solar power and biogas. Out of respect for the animals, they traverse their property on foot. Their only interference involves checking on the camera traps and water bodies.(Photo courtesy SAI Sanctuary)

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A small-clawed otter looks out from a pond on their land, in a video shot by Pamela Malhotra.(Photo courtesy SAI Sanctuary)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

A small-clawed otter looks out from a pond on their land, in a video shot by Pamela Malhotra.(Photo courtesy SAI Sanctuary)

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Jadhav Payeng is famous for nurturing a forest, by himself, on an island in the Brahmaputra river. The cattle farmer from Assam has spent over 40 years regreening 550 hectares of barren land, using traditional knowledge from elders of his tribe.(Parikhit Saikia / HT Archive)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

Jadhav Payeng is famous for nurturing a forest, by himself, on an island in the Brahmaputra river. The cattle farmer from Assam has spent over 40 years regreening 550 hectares of barren land, using traditional knowledge from elders of his tribe.(Parikhit Saikia / HT Archive)

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To Payeng, the most thrilling development has been the way the island has come to life. Rhinos come from Kaziranga, about 60 km away; elephants have been born amid the trees he planted; tigers stay for a few days; wild buffalo and migratory birds, including pelicans and vultures (seen here), visit as well.(Photo: Jitu Kalita)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

To Payeng, the most thrilling development has been the way the island has come to life. Rhinos come from Kaziranga, about 60 km away; elephants have been born amid the trees he planted; tigers stay for a few days; wild buffalo and migratory birds, including pelicans and vultures (seen here), visit as well.(Photo: Jitu Kalita)

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The Nilgiri plateau is a 5,000-sq-km tableland in the Nilgiri biosphere that abuts the Western Ghats. In its natural form, it is primarily a mosaic of shola forests (which occur on the ridges) and grasslands. However, less than 15% now exists in its natural form. The rest has been lost to tea estates, farms, homes and infrastructure projects.(Photo: Godwin Vasanth Bosco)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

The Nilgiri plateau is a 5,000-sq-km tableland in the Nilgiri biosphere that abuts the Western Ghats. In its natural form, it is primarily a mosaic of shola forests (which occur on the ridges) and grasslands. However, less than 15% now exists in its natural form. The rest has been lost to tea estates, farms, homes and infrastructure projects.(Photo: Godwin Vasanth Bosco)

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Godwin Vasanth Bosco, 33, is a restoration ecologist who has dedicated the last decade to studying and restoring the vegetation of the Nilgiri plateau. Through his organisation Upstream Ecology, Bosco maintains a grasslands nursery in Ooty, and works with government and private institutions to remodel landscapes with indigenous plants. Seen here is the golden Kurinji, which he grows in his nursery. The plant flowers once in nine years and is endemic to a few hilltops in the Nilgiris.(Photo: Ganesh G)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

Godwin Vasanth Bosco, 33, is a restoration ecologist who has dedicated the last decade to studying and restoring the vegetation of the Nilgiri plateau. Through his organisation Upstream Ecology, Bosco maintains a grasslands nursery in Ooty, and works with government and private institutions to remodel landscapes with indigenous plants. Seen here is the golden Kurinji, which he grows in his nursery. The plant flowers once in nine years and is endemic to a few hilltops in the Nilgiris.(Photo: Ganesh G)

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Restoration involves uprooting invasive shrubs, grasses and tress and replanting vegetation that is native to that specific area. A baseline study is done to determine what ecosystem that patch of land belongs to. In grassland restoration, for instance, an area is cleared out to make space for each type of grass. The patch is then monitored for at least a year. Shrubs and forest restoration takes longer.(Photo: Revathy S)
Updated on Jun 20, 2021 02:06 PM IST

Restoration involves uprooting invasive shrubs, grasses and tress and replanting vegetation that is native to that specific area. A baseline study is done to determine what ecosystem that patch of land belongs to. In grassland restoration, for instance, an area is cleared out to make space for each type of grass. The patch is then monitored for at least a year. Shrubs and forest restoration takes longer.(Photo: Revathy S)

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