One man and his forest

I just had to share this amazingly inspiring story with you… Jadav “Molai” Payeng is now 47, but since he was a teenager he has been creating a thriving forest in the middle of Brahmaputra, in India’s Assam region.

In 1979 Payeng was walking along a barren sandbar when he found the bodies of many dead snakes. They had been washed ashore during floods, but as there was no cover for them to retreat to they suffered and died in the heat.

Payeng told the Times of India that he “sat down and wept over their lifeless forms”. He  contacted the forest department, asking them to plant trees on the sandbar. But they said no trees would grow there, and suggested he try bamboo instead.

Payeng refused to be defeated. He moved onto the sandbar and began planting. After a few years the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket. Payeng patiently looked after the plants, then started planting trees along the sandbar. He also brought in red ants from his village, as they change the soil’s properties.

This once barren expanse is now a 550 hectare forest supporting a huge range of wildlife, including birds, deer, apes, rhino, and elephants. It is even home to five endangered tigers, one of which had two cubs this year. It is perhaps the world’s largest forest in the middle of a river.

‘Molai Kathoni’ (Molai’s Woods), named after its creator, was only discovered in 2008 when a herd of around 100 elephants entered it after a marauding spree. The animals also wrecked Payeng’s small hut. The locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the elephants, wanted to cut the forest down. But Payeng said they would have to kill him first.

It was at this time Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator of forests, met Payeng and was astounded by his work. Saikia said, “We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar… He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we too decided to pitch in.”

Payeng has devoted his life to creating this wonderful natural habitat, living in isolation from society – although he does now have a wife and three children with him on the sandbar – he makes a living by selling cow and buffalo milk. But he is also now getting the recognition and help he so deserves.

One man making such a difference to hundreds of plants and animals, and transforming a sandy desert into a forest bursting with life – truly inspiring!

Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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7 Responses to One man and his forest

  1. Finn Holding says:

    That’s an awesome and inspiring achievement. Payeng is a real hero!

  2. John Browne says:

    It sounds like he created a “bridge” habitat there, linking forests on either/both banks together. That kind of situation, where the “islands” of habitat can be joined, or passage to/through is enhanced, is critical to maintaining viable ecological continuity. Too many places that still have some value to the non-human inhabitants become ‘islands’ of habitat… but, without the dynamic situation that exists where there is linkage. So there is a stagnation, of sorts… in gene pools of plants & insects, possibly of plant communities, as well.
    It’s really true that “genius” is about 3% inspiration & 97% perspiration. My hat is off to this excellent, dedicated human! ^..^

  3. David says:

    Kay, thank you for sharing this. Payeng really is a hero.

    • Kay Haw says:

      Thank you for your comment David, and yes he really is. Makes me think I should definitely get planting more trees.

  4. Kay Haw says:

    Thank you for your comment, Payeng is a real hero of our modern age!


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