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

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday 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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs