Africa Explorer Takes Off on Yearlong Aerial Survey

Sean Markey
National Geographic News
June 10, 2004

He's been gored by an elephant and survived a plane crash. He's bushwhacked 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) through the some of the last untouched forests of Africa and hosted a rogue's gallery of tropical parasites and disease along the way.

Now biologist and explorer J. Michael Fay has embarked on another ambitious expedition: a 100,000-mile (160,000-kilometer) aerial survey of Africa's wildest places.

On Saturday, Fay took off from Swartkop Air Force Base in South Africa in a 40-year-old, single-engine Cessna. Joining him in the cockpit was Peter Ragg, an Austrian pilot who regularly serves with The Bateleurs, an Africa environmental air corps.

If all goes according to plan, the two will visit 50 of Africa's 54 countries over the course of 12 to 18 months. As they zigzag across the continent, Fay and Ragg will study and photograph the human impact on Africa's wilderness from the air and meet with conservationists and local land users on the ground.

Before he left, National Geographic News spoke with Fay—a Wildlife Conservation Society scientist and National Geographic conservation fellow—about the expedition some call the Africa MegaFlyover.

What's your objective?

We're going to every wild place left on the continent … . I hope to … engage the entire world in this amazing continent—to travel through that continent, look at it, and really be amazed: Wow, look at all this stuff! And then, at the end of the day, not say, OK, we've done it. It was a great expedition. We succeeded, thank you very much. We're going on to the next one.

What we need to do then … is say to the world at large—the U.S. Congress, the World Bank, national governments—OK, here are the 15 places that we saw that really could work, from a conservation point of view. And if we don't do it, we're going to lose big time. So let's hunker down in these places and make something happen.

That is the hope, that we're going to see—two years, three years after the expedition—that we've motivated and brought action to a lot of these places that really do need to be put in some kind of conservation scheme.

Is there a place you plan to stop that perhaps best represents the spirit of your trip?

Well, there are a million places out there. But one place that I'm extremely interested in is southern Sudan.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.