This extraordinary man from Assam, India, accomplished something many would find incredible! Through his selfless initiative, over the course of nearly 40 years, he planted a lush forest in the middle of a barren wasteland island, which is now home to a thriving ecosystem with many Bengal tigers, and even Indian rhinoceroses gracing its rich habitat.
This is the story of Jadav “Molai” Payeng, who was dubbed the “Forest Man of India” by the former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, for his remarkable efforts.
Almost 4 decades ago, in 1979, the then 16-year-old man from the Mishing tribe noticed a great number of snakes, washed ashore by floodwaters, had died on the island due to a lack of forest habitat and exposure to the scorching sun.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage,” Payeng told the Times of India.
His village elders told him that animals of the world would eventually lose their home due to deforestation and a lack of vegetation.
To his dismay, Payeng was told by officials that no trees could grow there.
The elders presented him with a solution to restore the animals’ habitat. “They gave me a few bamboo plants and asked me to plant those,” Payeng told Aljazeera.
That was when Payeng began his quest to plant a forest on the sandbar island, which became a sanctuary where animals and birds could thrive.
Devotedly and painstakingly, he planted trees after finishing his morning chores and milk deliveries.
Over time, his efforts began to bear fruit. The barren sandbar has since transformed into a flourishing 1,400 acre jungle called Molai Forest, aptly named after its selfless benefactor.
Today, the once eroding wasteland is covered with trees, including bamboo, valcol, arjun, cotton trees, royal Poinciana, silk trees, moj—all of which Payeng planted single-handedly.
The lush oasis is also home to many wild animals such as the Indian rhinoceros, deer, rabbits, elephants, Bengal tigers, apes, and numerous varieties of birds, including vultures.
“The island was close to my home and I began by planting bamboo and indigenous or non-valuable plants. It’s only since the past 15 years that I have begun to plant high value trees like teak,” said Payeng, in 2014.
The Earth will be a better place if we learn a thing or two from this man’s devotion to his home and his habitat, not to mention the animals that find sanctuary there.
“If every schoolchild is given the responsibility to grow two trees, it will surely lead to a Green India,” the forest man said.