Thursday, November 16, 2006


I am always fascinated by the lives of explorers, what they do and how they do it. These people are driven by something extraordinary, something not all of us have. Exploring new frontiers, trekking across inhospitable country, climbing the highest peaks, swimming the deepest oceans, the list goes on. Exploring has been going on for thousands of years and will probably go on for the same time. Here’s one that grabbed my attention.
In 1999, J Michael Fay did a 2000km trek across the Congo Basin in Africa. It took him 455 days (15 months) to survey the ecological status of the region. He did it in collaboration with National Geographic and called it “Megatransect”. First a bit of history about him. In 1978 he worked for the Peace Corps in Tunisia and CAR (Central African Republic). He then joined the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1984 and completed his doctorate on the western lowland gorilla in 1997 all while working and managing the Dzanga-Sangha and Nouabale-Ndoki parks in the Central African Republic and Congo. He then went on to work for the Wildlife Conservation Society and spent two years with the National Geographic Society doing the Megatransect and the subsequent writing up of the results. What makes this transect so amazing is the fact that it was done on foot. Through the jungles of the Congo. Enough said! He had suffered a chest cold and a few foot-worm infections, and weight loss (about 15kg), but he had stayed healthy throughout. No Malaria or any other jungle-induced ill-health. When they walk on their (imaginary) route (there are no roads), they had trail-cutters in front that cut a path through thick undergrowth. After the transect, he lobbied for the creation of 13 National Parks, according to the data he collected. In 2002, the Bush Administration gave $53 million for the preservation of the Congo Basin.
In 2004, he did the “Megaflyover”. They flew over the wildest places in Africa, documenting the “Human Footprint”. Basically how human life is interfering and influencing wildlife and nature in the last wild spaces of Africa. They (Fey and pilot Peter Ragg) covered 160,000kms in a modified Cessna 182 fitted with cameras that took pictures of the ground every 20 seconds. This journey took seven months of flying at low altitudes and sleeping under the plane where-ever they touch down for the night. He had this to say afterwards: “Just as we suspected, humans have penetrated very deeply into every single ecosystem in Africa that we visited…We found many, many places where soils and vegetation and water systems are being exhausted." They started in Johannesburg, South Africa, and went as far up as Sudan, covering almost 17 countries.
I salute Fay and all the other explorers and will bring you more on what drives them, and where they go in the future.

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