He’s built an incredible oasis one tree at a time.
In 1979, 16-year-old Jadav Payeng was heartbroken when he spotted several snakes that had died from heat exhaustion on a desolate, Indian island.
“It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there,” he said. “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.”
After Payeng’s initial discovery, the government committed to a 5-year-long restoration project. After its completion, he stayed behind and kept planting trees.
Payeng carries a young tree to plant.
Payeng in the forest named after him.
Decades later, government officials visited the island when they were looking for elephant poachers and they discovered something incredible.
Payeng had singlehandedly transformed the once barren landscape into a beautiful island full of lush trees.
“People from all across the globe come here now because this forest amazes them,” he said.
And there were even more surprises to be found.
It’s now home to a number of exotic animals
The island oasis has been renamed in his honor. And for planting more than 10,000 trees over 40 years, he definitely deserves recognition.
But the incredible transformation his efforts have brought extends far beyond the treeline.
The forest that once was literally a graveyard for stranded creatures is now home to over 100 elephants, Bengal tigers, rhinoceros, deer, rabbits and a number of species of birds. A number of baby elephants have even been born on the island, leading Indian officials to ensure it is a safe space free from poachers and other threats.
Payeng is a living legend. But his real legacy is how all of us can make a difference one small step at a time.
In 2014, William D. McMaster made a documentary called “Forest Man” about Peyeng. With is 40 year project largely complete, Payeng says he’d now like to expand it to other islands and vulnerable locations across India.
He’s already accomplished something truly incredible and it’s a reminder to everyone that we all can make a world of difference even with seemingly small gestures.