Driven by a love of nature and a desire to help preserve the environment, one man’s amazing dedication has helped turn what was once a desolate island into a lush forest bigger than New York City’s Central Park.
Every day now for nearly 40 years, Indian man Jadav Payeng has woken up in the morning, went out to the woodlands, and planted a tree.
His forest, which is located on Majuli, Assam, India, the world’s largest river island, now totals over 1360 acres. However, it hasn’t always been this big. In fact, it all started with a single tree Payeng planted back in 1979.
After observing the damage caused by a devastating river flood in the area, Payeng decided to start planting trees to help fight against erosion.
He still remembers exactly where he planted his first tree, and although he can still take you there, the once barren patch of land has now become a dense forest as seen in the photo below.
Payeng spent decades secretly planting the trees until 2007 when wildlife photographer and journalist, Jitu Kalita, randomly stumbled upon him.
In the time since, Payeng’s story has went viral and been shared across the world in the documentary, Forest Man, which has amassed millions of views on YouTube.
In it, Kalita gives his take on what it was like when he first came across Payeng planting trees:
“I saw something strange… it looked like a forest far in the distance. I began walking towards it and when I reached it I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had found a dense forest in the middle of a barren wasteland,” Kalita said.
As Kalita approached, Payeng actually thought the photographer was probably a poacher who was out on the hunt for rhinos and tigers. Little did he know that it was, in fact, the man who was about to make him famous.
After speaking with Payeng and learning his story, Kalita wrote an article about him in the local paper. After the article got picked up nationally, Payeng was praised across the country for his work, and soon became known internationally as well.
They called him “The Forest Man of India”.
Payeng still has a day job, however. He and his wife make a living selling cows’ milk to local villages.
Although planting trees is still just a hobby for him, he plans on continuing doing it until his “last breath”.
“At first, planting the seeds was very time consuming, but now it’s much easier because I get the seeds from the trees themselves,” Payeng said.
His goal is to fill up Majuli Island and get his forest to 5,000 acres, as well as provide a sanctuary for the island’s animals.
If all goes well, it seems like something he very well may accomplish, as long as he can keep the loggers and poachers away.
“Humans consume everything until there is nothing left. Nothing is safe from humans, not even tigers or elephants,” he said.
“I tell people, cutting those trees will get you nothing. Cut me before you cut my trees.”
His forest has actually since become somewhat of a tourist attraction and serves as an amazing example to aspiring environmentalists all across the globe. While Payeng plants one tree per day, imagine if everyone in the world each planted just one tree per year, how big of a difference it would make.
In addition to the tens of thousands of trees, Payeng’s forest is now home to Bengal tigers, rhinos, vultures and around 115 elephants.
To learn more about “The Forest Man of India”, watch the amazing short documentary below.
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