This man has been planting a tree every day since he was just 16 years old. Now, almost 40 years later, he has grown a forest that is larger than New York City’s Central Park.
Jadav Payeng is the Indian man who has nurtured 1,360-acres of forest on what was once a barren landscape devastated by erosion.
A father of three, he lives on Majuli, the world’s largest river island. As a teenager, he was mortified after witnessing hundreds of animals dying from drought amid the dwindling greenery on the island, so he resolved to plant one sapling every day. He started with simple botanical powerhouses, such as bamboo and cottonwood. Payeng says that he has lost count of how many trees he has planted – but he believes there are now hundreds of thousands of trees providing shade and shelter to the wildlife.
After almost four decades of growth, his forest is now inhabited by hundreds of elephants, Bengal tigers, rhinos, boars, deer, reptiles, and birds.
Island locals used to call Payeng “crazy” for his ambitions, but since he was accidentally discovered by a wandering wildlife journalist in 2007, the “Forest Man of India” has been hailed as a civilian hero by the government and an internationally-recognized conservational role model.
“It’s not as if I did it alone,” Paying told NPR. “You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed, the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the … river knows. The entire ecosystem knows.”
Payeng doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon, either – though he makes money selling cow’s milk in his nearby village, he wants to continue planting trees “until his last breath”. The botanical expert hopes to one day rejuvenate the entire island in Assam with 5,000 acres of trees.