Michael Fay

An ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, Mike Fay was an early naturalist, exploring the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy. He later took on Alaska, Central America, and North Africa. For the past few decades, he has explored the depths of central Africa's forests and savannas.

Fay was born in September 1956 in Plainfield, New Jersey, and grew up in Pasadena, California. He received a B.S. degree in 1978 from the University of Arizona and then spent six years as a Peace Corps botanist, working in national parks in Tunisia and in the savannas of the Central African Republic. In 1984 he began working with botanist Peter Raven at the Missouri Botanical Garden, first to do a floristic study on a mountain range on Sudan's western border, but ultimately studying the western lowland gorilla. It was at this time that he first entered the forests of central Africa.

Doctoral work was put off several times—he graduated in 1997—while he surveyed large forest blocks and worked to create and manage the Dzanga-Sangha and Nouabale-Ndoki parks in the Central African Republic and Congo.

In 1996 Fay started flying a small airplane low over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized that there was a vast, intact forest corridor that spanned these two countries from the Oubangui River to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997 he decided to walk the entire corridor—more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers)—systematically surveying trees, wildlife, and human impact on 12 uninhabited forest blocks in a project he called the Megatransect (covered in National Geographic in 2000 and 2001). His objective was to bring to the world's attention the last pristine swaths of forest in central Africa and the need to protect them. This work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks in Gabon.

For a year, Fay worked at setting up park management infrastructure in Gabon's Loango National Park and wrote an article for National Geographic called "Land of the Surfing Hippos."

In 2004 he conducted an eight-month aerial survey at 300 feet (91 meters), flying across the entire African continent on a project called the Megaflyover. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of the human footprint on associated ecosystems. The Megaflyover is the subject of "Tracing the Human Footprint" in the September 2005 issue of National Geographic.

Recently Fay has been working in Chad and Sudan, working to establish a new conservation initiative. In 2007 he began a new mission to help study the redwood forest and to get Americans thinking about global warming. He plans to walk the entire range of the redwood tree, more than 700 miles (1,100 kilometers).