In 1979 there a large devastating flash flood in the Assam Region of India. After the waters receded, Jadav “Mulai” Payeng found snakes everywhere that had died in the heat, unable to find shelter on the sandbar. Mulai, who was 16 at the time was not only upset by the destruction of the floods but by the needless loss of life. At that point he made it his life goal to make a difference, he tried contacting the local forest service to ask that trees be planted but was turned down.
Mulai started his project by growing bamboo on the sandbar in the middle of the Brahmaputra River. Finally in 1980, the forestry division launched a tree planting fund on about 500 acres of the land. After 5 years the project was completed and everyone went home, except for Mulai. Mulai decided to live on the island in isolation and continue to plant trees. All the bamboo that was planted didn’t satisfy his need for a forest. He began to replace the bamboo with trees. Not only did he transport seeds and saplings, he also began transporting wildlife to the island such as red ants to help to the soil.
Now after 30 years of dedication, Mulai Kathoni or Mulai’s Forest is complete. The forest contains hundreds of species of trees over 1360 acres of what was once a barren sandbar. His forest also serves as a home to endangered wildlife. He is aware of 4 tigers, 3 rhinos, over 100 deer, rabbits, apes, and a seasonal herd of about 100 elephants that call the island home. Despite the immense size of the forest, forestry officials had no idea that he had remained on the island for 25 years after the original planting. The Government of India is now considering declaring the forest a Wildlife Sanctuary to protect it from locals who want to cut it down due to the elephants destroying their property.
Mulai still lives on the island with his wife and 3 kids, where he makes a living by selling cow and buffalo milk. If the Government decides to protect the land that Mulai has created, he would like to move himself and his family to another area of the country and begin the rest of his life by planting another.