In a world where it’s commonly believed that one person can’t make a difference, one Indian man is proving that argument to be false. Jadav Molai Payeng is a modern-day hero to those who fight to protect natural habitats around the world.
He’s not a traditional activist, but a man who was motivated 30 years ago to create a wildlife refuge for the animals in his native Assam region in India. By the simple act of seed planting, Payeng has done just that — by creating a jungle refuge that stretches more than 1,300 acres.
His work has been carried out during an international era of environmental degradation. Corporate industries, including those relating to logging and agriculture, have devastated ecosystems around the world. Herakles Farms, a U.S. agriculture business aimed at the cultivation palm oil trees, recently became the focus of a Greenpeace Campaign intended to stop its plans to farm 180 acres of Cameroon forest.
Globally, India has a favorable reputation when it comes to protecting its forests. The nation’s Forest Survey of India, run by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, regularly releases assessments monitoring deforestation. Yet in 2003, the nation saw a decline of 74 million acres of dense forest, according to the World Rainforest Movement.
Rainforest space globally has been cut in half in the last 100 years, representing the disregard for the role natural habitats play throughout the world. In 2005, there were more than 7,500 companies registered to log the Brazilian Amazon alone, according to a Greenpeace report.
Planting the seed
Payeng’s story started when he was just 16 years old, during a time of flooding in his native Indian region. Following the floods, Payeng watched the heartbreaking story unfold, one which left the native animals in the area without their natural habitat.
Eager to address the issue, he sought help in creating a sustainable living environment for animals in the region. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his passions were not felt by the nation’s forest department. With no one to turn to, he turned to himself and created what today is more than 1,300 acres of jungle land — seed by seed.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover,” the 47-year-old told the Times of India. “I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo.”
Payeng didn’t grow the natural habitat with the help of advanced technology or a robust workforce — he did so through the dedicated work of his own hands, planting every seed that has grown into what it is today.
“It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” he told the Times.
What began as a young man’s passion turned into a lifelong endeavor, resulting in what today is thriving wildlife refuge in India’s Assam region.
Payeng started by building a humble home on the same sandbar where he discovered the dead snakes. He began by fertilizing the soil by infusing it with red ants, which created fertile ground for the planting of bamboo, which thrived. From there, his dedicated work continued, into what today is known as the Molai woods. The area is home to a diverse range of animals, including tigers, rhinos, deer and birds. Elephants, too, began to dwell in the area.
“After 12 years, we’ve seen vultures. Migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. Deer and cattle have attracted predators,” Payeng said.
Even while this was happening, the Assam State Forest Department was unaware. It wasn’t until 2008 that it discovered it, through word that more than 100 elephants had “strayed” onto the land.
“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar,” Assistant Conservator of Forests Gunin Saikia told the Times. “Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms (elephants), wanted to cut down the forest, but Payend dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch it.”
India’s wildlife protection
India is home to more than 440 wildlife sanctuaries and 80 national parks, which draw international tourists eager to see the wildlife of the area. And while the culture of the nation is one that respects the natural wildlife of the area, it, too, deals with battles against destruction.
In April 2012, residents were concerned that excessive road expansion would destroy natural tiger wildlife reserves. As reported by Daijiworld, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Centre for Wildlife Studies carried out a study regarding the the impact of highway growth passing through the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. It discovered that the highway interrupted the trails of more than 690 animal trails.
“If India is serious about achieving this balance, there is no escape but to invest in a more holistic process of development planning that includes — rather than ignores — the conservation of its priceless natural heritage,” the report states.
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