News / USA

Man's Africa Trek Saves Pristine Forests

Michael Fay's plant and wildlife survey prompts protections

Naturalist Michael Fay camped out at the Missouri Botanical Garden during a recent visit to St. Louis.
Naturalist Michael Fay camped out at the Missouri Botanical Garden during a recent visit to St. Louis.

Multimedia

Audio

Michael Fay calls himself a “nature boy.” He’s made a career of exploring the globe in the name of environmental protection, sponsored by organizations like National Geographic and the Wildlife Conservation Society.



In September 1999, Fay, then in his early forties, set out on the MegaTransect, a 15-month survey of plants and wildlife that took him more than 3,000 kilometers, on foot, across the forests of west-central Africa’s Congo basin.

As a result of that journey, millions of hectares of pristine forest were put into protected status.

Impossible mission

When the naturalist set out with about a dozen Pygmy guides to walk across the dense tropical forests of the Congo and Gabon, most people thought he was on an impossible mission.

“You know, we were [on] like an epic voyage out there," he says. "Every day you have to find food for 13 people, you have to keep everyone healthy. You have to be the mother, the father, the coach, everybody, for all these guys.”

Fay intended for his journey through the last pristine forests in west-central Africa to draw international attention to the rich biological diversity being threatened by commercial logging.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Michael Fay stands in front of a Cessna plane in June, 2004, before his MegaFlyover of Africa.
National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Michael Fay stands in front of a Cessna plane in June, 2004, before his MegaFlyover of Africa.

He admits the local people on his team didn’t really know what they were signing up for.

“They certainly got depressed after three or four months out on the trail," he says. "So I had to switch teams about halfway through, because those guys were just burned out, basically.”

At one point, they stopped at a small village where Fay warned his companions not to drink the water because of the risk of disease.

“And sure enough, one of the Pygmies gets hepatitis like, probably two or three weeks later. And the first reaction of those guys to something like that is to scarify them with razor blades and bleed them, you know, to get the bad blood out," Fay remembers. "And so here you’ve got this highly-infectious guy, who all of a sudden everybody’s touching his blood, and I just had these nightmares of the whole crew getting hepatitis.”

According to Fay, it took about a week to carry the sick man to a river, where they used a dugout canoe to transport him to safety.

Expedition of a lifetime


Using a satellite-based positioning system, digital cameras, and a laptop computer, Fay documented his experiences - good and bad - during his long trek through the forest.

He crossed rivers, hacked through dense underbrush, and slogged through deep, muddy swamps. Along the way, he saw an enormous variety of wildlife, from elephants to aardvarks to gorillas.

Fay also came across roads and bulldozers, where logging companies were cutting down the forest.

Fay collected samples, took photographs, and compiled a detailed description of, as he puts it, “every pile of dung, every tree, every cry of a chimpanzee” along his route. He sent occasional dispatches describing the trip to one of his funders, the National Geographic Society, which published his accounts online.

“It was hard. But we didn’t lose a single person, and it was an expedition of a lifetime, for sure.”

Making a difference

For Fay, the risk and hardship were worth it. The knowledge that came out of his trip, and the attention it drew to the rich biodiversity of the Congo basin, spurred the creation of 13 national parks in Gabon, which placed more than four million hectares of forest into protected status.

“And those parks are still very much protected and real. And logging - just like I thought - has completely surrounded every single one of those parks in the interim. So if we didn’t do it when we did it, none of that forest would have been saved from logging.”

After he finished the MegaTransect in 2000, Fay rented an apartment in Washington, D.C., intending to write up his findings. But after sleeping outdoors in the forest for so long, he had a hard time readjusting to city life.

“I spent one night in this apartment, and I immediately just fled, you know. And I went to Rock Creek Park, which is the big National Park in the middle of Washington, D.C., and it was like ‘Oh my God, this is perfect, this is beautiful, I can sleep outside, the birds are here, there’s deer, there’s trees, you know it’s forest cover,’ and I thought, you know, ‘Why would I ever want to live inside?’”

Since returning from his expedition across the Congo Basin, Fay has conducted other large-scale surveys of biodiversity. His latest, in 2007, took him on a 3,000 kilometer hike through California’s redwood forests - not bad, for a guy in his early 50s.

And no matter where he is, Fay says he still avoids sleeping indoors, if he can help it.

You May Like

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid