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11. Catching Up: Michael Fay
Megafauna Man

"The journey would take him 15 months, during which he machete-hacked through vines and slogged across enormous swamps, braving equatorial heat, torrential rains, and charging elephants. It was a trip both epic and reckless, admirable and a bit mad."—"The Uncharted World of Michael Fay," by Michael Shnayerson, ADVENTURE July/August 2001

He went into the African jungle to document its bounty for science. He came out a different man. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and biologist J. Michael Fay embarked on a journey through some of Africa’s densest unmapped terrain starting in September 1999. (The expedition was called the Megatransect.) With little more than a pair of shorts, a small pack, and reams of empty notebooks, Fay, photographer Michael "Nick" Nichols, and a team of porters set out from Bomassa, Republic of Congo, and cut a westward swath to the coast of Gabon. When he emerged from the jungle more than a year later, Fay had bushwhacked through 2,000 miles of seemingly impenetrable territory and endured innumerable trials: a porter mutiny; malaria; encounters with pythons and vipers; and a 50-mile-wide section of jungle he dubbed the Green Abyss because it took ten weeks to cross.

Following the Megatransect, Fay returned to the United States to lecture and publish, but he was so conditioned to camping out that he preferred to spend nights in a sleeping bag at National Geographic’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Soon enough, Africa called him back. He launched an exhaustive aerial survey (inevitably nicknamed the Megaflyover) of the same jungles he’d walked through. On New Year’s Eve 2002, Fay survived a near-fatal elephant attack in Gabon, gored 14 times by an enraged female’s 16-inch tusks. Recently, he’s undertaken major surveys of vanishing species: California’s redwoods and Chad’s elephants—projects conducted, of course, on foot.

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