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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More