Indian man single-handedly planted a 1,360-acre forest

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The forest, called the Molai woods, is a safe haven for numerous birds,  deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants — species increasingly at risk from  habitat loss.

A little more than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai”  Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in  northern India’s Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to  dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site where he  could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly,  the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acres of jungle that Payeng  planted — single-handedly.

It all started way back in 1979, when floods washed a large number  of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded,  Payeng, only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles.  That was the turning point of his life.

“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down  and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest  department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said  nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo.  It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was  interested,” says Payeng, now 47.

While it’s taken years for Payeng’s remarkable dedication to  planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it  didn’t take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the  manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological  balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to  bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed  into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could  dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven  for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants — species  increasingly at risk from habitat loss.

Despite the conspicuousness of Payeng’s project, forestry officials  in the region first learned of this new forest in 2008 — and since then  they’ve come to recognize his efforts as truly remarkable, but perhaps  not enough.

“We’re amazed at Payeng,” says Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator  of Forests. “He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other  country, he would have been made a hero.”

 

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