WASHINGTON - One hundred thousand images, 70,000 miles and 21 countries later, conservationist J. Michael Fay thinks Bono, Live 8 and the G-8 have been misguided.
Fay, a biologist and member of the Wildlife Conservation Society and National Geographic Society, spent seven months flying at low altitudes across Africa, and he has mapped enough of the human footprint on his trip to be disturbed, he said at a news conference Wednesday to highlight his findings.
Hundreds of hippopotamuses crowd into what is left of the Katuma River in Tanzania's Katavi National Park August 17, 2005. The near-motionless hippos are fighting for life as they lie in just inches of water. Irrigation for agriculture near this river is the suspected cause of the hippos' plight. REUTERS/Michael Fay/National Geographic Magazine/Handout
"People aren't connecting the dots," he said of African relief efforts. "We gotta stop talking about poverty alleviation, and we gotta start talking about sustainable development."
Fay said he believed international aid to Africa must be transformed to preserve the continent's basic resources instead of extracting them for wealthy nations. Natural resources and conservation management should be part of the psyche of African governments and people worldwide to help make African countries more self-sustaining and so that the world won't keep seeing them as places of constant crisis, he said.
Fay said he had seen mass graves in AIDS-ridden South Africa as well as dehydrated and dead hippos at Katavi National Park in Tanzania, which he said was a result of the World Bank's rice-development efforts, which made money but took away water from wildlife.
Fay and pilot Peter Ragg of Austria left South Africa in June 2004 to look at the "interface between humanity and what nature provides for humanity," and to find answers to questions about the origins of the land's most troubled spots, such as Sudan and Niger.
"Darfur, in my opinion, was something we could have seen 30 years ago," Fay said, referring to the region in Sudan where more than 100,000 people have died and millions have been displaced during two years of fighting between black African tribes and Arab militias. Fay pointed to the ecological warning signs: limited habitable space, little productivity of goods and a heavy human "footprint."
It wasn't all disheartening. Fay said he saw examples of a budding commitment to sustainable development. Namibia's healthy soil, grass and wildlife, for example, are the result of a new "conservancy" system that grants communities control over their land with encouragement from the government to produce wisely.
Fay also was amazed to see tens of thousands of lechwe, a type of antelope, alongside humans in Zambia, offering hope that nature and humanity can coexist.
"There is no silver bullet. We can't say we're going to change the world overnight," he said. "Humans have a natural tendency to consume; we take that as a given. But we have to take the natural resource base as a fundamental."
In 2001, Fay walked through miles of African forests to survey wildlife. His findings there led to the creation of 13 national parks in Gabon, which preserve some of the last wild places in Africa from deforestation due to logging.
Fay will address members of Congress' International Conservation Caucus in September about his research. He said he wouldn't mind chatting with President Bush, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U2 singer Bono, who's worked extensively on relief efforts for Africa.
More information on Fay's findings will appear in the September issue of National Geographic magazine.
To see more photos and read dispatches from Fay's journal, go to
To see a "Human Footprint" map, which examines the impact of Africa's 900 million inhabitants, go to
© 2005 Knight Ridder.com