National Geographic Explorer J. Michael Fay, Visits March 20

Anthropologist, conservationist, and National Geographic explorer J. Michael Fay will visit the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Tuesday, March 20 to discuss “Saving Africa’s Eden,” an examination of how killing off the natural world impacts local ecosystems. The public portion of the program begins at 6:45 p.m.; seating is free, on a first-come basis.

Fay, perhaps most notable for his “Megatransect Project” in 2000 (walking 2,000 miles over 455 days through the heart of Africa to document the largest, unspoiled area on the continentthe Congo Basin forest) is an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic. Following the success of the Megatransect Project, which lead to the African country of Gabon establishing its first system of national parks, Fay then spent eight months on the “Megaflyover” project, flying at low altitude over 60,000 miles of Africa, to capture 100,000 digital images an unprecedented aerial record of the environment and human impacts on the African ecosystem; both projects were sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

“When it comes to a practical knowledge of the geography of central Africa, there is hardly anybody around who knows what (Fay) knows, who’s been where he has, who’s documented it,” botanist and conservationist Peter Ravenhead of the Missouri Botanical Gardenhas said. “In that sense, he’s a classical explorer. But he’s much more than that. He’s living at a moment in time when the last forests are being destroyed, where the opportunity to save that world is fading rapidly.”

Fay’s more recent work has been studying elephant poaching in Chad. In his quest to protect Africa’s diverse wildlife, he has survived bouts of malaria, and face-to-face confrontations with armed poachers, a plane crash, and an attack by an African elephant while trekking through a national park in Gabon. “Elephants will always be my friends,” he has said, “but I may just slow down on the level of interaction I have had in the past.”

Fay spent his childhood in Pasadena and studied botany at the University of Arizona. College was followed by six years of Peace Corps service as a botanist in national parks in Tunisia and the savannahs of the Central African Republic. Fay attended graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis and conducted dissertation research on the lowland gorilla population in the forests of the Central African Republic. He went on to create the Dzanga-Sangha and Nouabale-Ndoki wildlife refuges in the Central African Republic and Congo.

Fay’s visit to CMC is jointly sponsored by the Roberts Environmental Center and the Athenaeum.