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April 21, 2012

The man who single-handedly planted a forest

It sounds more like a legend than a reality, but there is a man who has spent the last 33 years single-handedly planting a 1,360 acre forest in India. Relentlessly dedicated to restoring nature and cultivating an area for wildlife to flourish, Jadav “Molai” Payeng began his tree planting mission in 1979 when he was just 16 years old.

He started with a few bamboo plants that he planted near his hometown in northern India after a flood washed snakes onto a sandbar, where they were left to die in the sun due to lack of tree cover. After he “sat down and wept over their lifeless forms,” Penang was motivated to make a difference. To prevent any more animals from suffering in this way, Penang began planting seeds to grow trees that could act as cover from the hot Indian sun, despite warnings from adults who said his efforts would be wasted, as nothing could grow there.

Thanks to extraordinary dedication and belief in his dreams, Penang was able to successfully grow a small forest of bamboo. That success led to the pursuit of a bigger dream, and he began planting trees and moving ants to the area to help foster a healthy ecosystem.

It worked astonishingly well, and his efforts led the growth of a rich, lush jungle known as ‘Molai Kathoni’ (Molai’s woods). The now 47-year-old continues to be devoted to wildlife conservation; Payeng’s forests have been able to attract endangered animals whose natural habitats are threatened, including Royal Bengal tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses.

According to Zee News India, Mulai is able to make a living and support his wife and three children by selling milk from his cows and buffaloes. He lives close to the area in which the trees are planting, in a small, secluded house that is difficult to reach.

Penang’s forest was only discovered by the forest department in 2008. Since then, he’s received support for his vision, including attempting to persuade the government to make the area a protected wildlife sanctuary. The recent international media attention will no doubt help as well.

“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar,” Gunin Saikia, of the Assam state forest department, told The Times of India. “Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in. We’re amazed at Payeng. He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”

Despite being told it was impossible to grow tress on the sandbar, Penang followed his dreams. If you knew that pursuing your wildest dreams would result in success, what would you attempt to do?