Interview:Mike Fay Is on a Trek to Preserve Forest in Gabon

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If you look at the map from a land-use perspective though, you realize that the entire block has been given away to many different logging companies, and they're working their way into Langoue as fast as we can talk. They're going to log that entire area, and there's still about 500,000 hectares [1,235,500 acres] that are completely virgin, untouched forest. But because of the sheer number of logging companies in there, the potential to log that block completely very quickly is very high. So we're launching a campaign with the government and the logging companies and the conservation community and with the general public to try and create a national park in this place. That means pushing back time. That means going back in time essentially four or five years [ago], when there were no logging concessions in this place. And that's difficult to do. And it's expensive.

NG News: How much money are you looking to raise?

Fay: Well, if we had three and a half million dollars today, right now, we can go into Gabon tomorrow and negotiate the logging rights for those concessions and maybe preserve 300,000 hectares [741,000 acres] of that forest, which includes those naive gorillas, the giant elephants, the clearing on the mountain and the waterfalls. We could start that process quite easily tomorrow. But surprisingly, finding three and a half million dollars for conservation, in this world that has too much money, is very difficult.

NG News: Where have you been looking for funding?

Fay: Everywhere. You know, we don't have a major coordinated fund-raising effort that we're investing lots of money into. We're trying to do it on the cheap, I guess you could say. We're trying to use the media coverage that we've received and use the connections that we have from a number of sources. We have raised well over a million dollars already, but we…need three and a half million dollars, and without it we're not gonna get that national park. …When you look at the exploitation of the resources in those countries it's not done for the consumption of Gabonese or Congolese, it's done primarily for the consumption of Americans, Asians, and Europeans. And people need to be responsible for that. They can't just blithely keep going farther afield and exploiting the wilderness without having to pay some attention to that fact, without having to pay up. ...We get all upset when the U.S. government wants to go drilling in [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge]. But when an oil company wants to drill in the most pristine place in Gabon, we don't say "boo." And that has to change. People need to be responsible globally if they're going to exploit globally. It has to be a two-way street.

NG News: How do you propose to monitor the park and protect it from such threats as poaching, logging, and bushmeat hunting?

Fay: It's that double-edged sword again. The place is very isolated right now. So we're looking at a four-pronged approach. The first prong was to basically get a team on the ground…to protect that clearing and get a presence in there that says to people, "There's somebody looking after this place." People have taken an interest in it, people have recognized that it's something that needs to be protected. ...We have money from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a camp and a team on the ground. So that's prong number one.

Prong number two is the buy-back. We need to negotiate with logging companies and with the Gabonese government to find out how much it is going to cost and which blocks we can get. We're dealing with ten different blocks, each about 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres)…and each one takes a separate negotiation essentially. We have the green light from the Gabonese forestry minister to start this process.

The third prong of the effort is to establish a trust fund so that management will take place there in the long term. Trust funds not only create a situation where you can get funding for a place like that, but you also have a much broader management base…because if there's an international trust fund then there's an international board. And if there's an international board, people are going to be interested in keeping this place in a state that this fund was set up to preserve. Over the years national governments in Africa have shown great interest and have collaborated in international conservation efforts in their countries. This is seen as a positive and we have had great success in the past with these associations.

And then the fourth thing is to actually establish a long-term presence on the ground, which again requires some sort of international collaboration between the conservation organization and the national government. It relies on funding from the outside rather than inside the country. We have a grant to pay for the ground action for the next three years and the effort to negotiate the national park. So we're making pretty good progress on our four prongs. But we've only completed about 10 to 30 percent of the 100 percent that we need to go on all four of those demands. So, there's still a lot of work to be done.

There are some positive elements to build on. Along the megatransect route there are already some protected areas. The idea is to preserve and fully protect about one tenth of the entire forest. We need to be pragmatic by setting reasonable targets that we can accomplish.

You can send your contribution to the Langoue Fund, c/o Susan Hannah, Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10460 or e-mail Mike directly at mfay@ngs.org.

If you prefer, go to the Wildlife Conservation Society Homepage and scroll down on the left side. Select the "Donate Now" penguin and under "Please Choose" select "Dr. J. Michael Fay/African Wildlife" and fill in the form. Thanks for making the Langoue National Park happen.

For more information on the Megatransect and related sites:

Megatransect I

Megatransect II

Megatransect III

National Geographic Megatransect: Walking Across Africa (Multimedia)

Adventure July/August 2001 @ nationalgeographic.com

Wildlife Conservation Society: Congo Trek

World Wildlife Fund

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species: Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants

The Rainforest Database From Living Earth

African Mammals Databank

Gorillas Online

ECOFAC (in French)

Global Forest Watch

Lingala Words and Phrases

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