Couple Spends 20 Years Planting Forest and 100s of Endangered Animals Have Returned

Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado left East Africa 30 years ago. He was working on a project focused on the Rwanda genocide, and let’s just say it was an exhausting and traumatizing experience.

So, going back home was an awesome idea. Salgado decided to take care of his family’s cattle ranch in Minas Gerais. It was a lovely place with a lot of vegetation, and the rainforest was awesome.

Unfortunately, Salgado was hit a terrible welcome surprise. Only 0.5% of the land was covered in trees, and there was zero wildlife. In one of his interviews, he said the land was as sick as he was.

Salgado’s wife, Lélia, came up with an excellent idea. She suggested that they replant the forest. It was almost impossible to do something like this, but the couple founded the Instituto Terra in 1998. It’s an environmental organization devoted to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce.

The first few years were the hardest. The couple and members of the Instituto Terra team rebuilt the 1,754-acre forest. The tropical paradise was alive. Again.

Today, the forest is known as Private Natural Heritage Reserve. It’s the home of hundreds of species of flora and fauna. There are 293 species of trees, 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles. Most of these animals are on the list of endangered species.

The Salgados improved the ecosystem and the climate in their area. The springs were back again, and the drought was gone forever. This project changed local temperatures, and everyone felt the difference.

The Salgados were happy to see all the insects, birds and fish return to their home. Salgado likes to say that he was reborn, too.