National Geographic Live: Wings Over Africa 02/23/2006

On Thursday Feb 23rd, I attended the first of four National Geographic Live events here in Minneapolis, along with two friends, including IP’s own Music Editor, Gloomchen. This particular performance was entitled, Wings Over Africa: Tracing the Human Footprint.

The speaker was Michael Fay, who is best known for his work known as “the Megatransect.” The Megatransect involved Fay walking through 2,000 miles of the African rainforest in an attempt to bolster global understanding and appreciation of this particular ecosystem. His journey was watched on the Internet, as well as chronicled by National Geographic. This journey was also told (along with photos by Mike Nichols) in the book, Last Place on Earth, which is a two volume set weighing in at a massive 13 pounds. The Megatransect was a critical success, which caused several African nations to open national parks to protect the wilderness and rainforests from development and human encroachment.

The presentation was opened by Scott Lanyon of the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History (Long enough name, eh?) who thanked us all for coming, reminded us of the sponsors, and was going to introduce an introductory video, only to be met by some technical difficulties: the movie wouldn’t play. To his credit, Mr. Lanyon ad-libbed fairly well under the situation, until Michael Fay was brought out for us, who opened the show with a bio-video about himself. This too encountered technical difficulties halfway through, which turned out to be a good thing, as it left him more time to talk about his travels in Africa.

Mr. Fay spoke for a little over ninety minutes while showing us photographs and video footage of his most recent travels in Africa, which have been dubbed “The Megaflyover.” Fay described the Megaflyover as an attempt to photograph 70,000 miles of African terrain from an aerial view in order to look at how mankind has affected the environment of Africa. Fay then spent 7 months and 700 hours in a plane with a camera rigged on the underbelly taking a snapshot every twenty second. The end result was over 100,000 photos of the African continent, all of which will some day appear on Google Earth. Alas, only 600 are up right now, but they are all of amazing quality.

Fay provided us with some captivating stories as well, ranging from the fact the plane they used for this adventure was little better than a jalopy with wings, to his being gored by a very angry bull elephant. Chief though was Fay’s stories about what we as a species have done to the African landscape. Several pictures showed where almost un-healable damage that we have done in places like Madagascar, where the Chinese have obliterated 90% of the forests there, and yet only use 1% of it. He showed us footage of how people will hunt elephants but old take their tusks for ivory development, and leave the rest of their body to waste. Fay consistently reiterated the importance of conservation as the key not only to the survival of the indigenous wildlife, but of humanity as well. Fay brought up an excellent point that many people forget. In our short-sighted attempt to “save” people from poverty, we actually end up using more of our limited natural resources and destroy our surrounding environment. This usually causes more harm than good, and sometimes harm that can not be repaired. Fay seemed to feel it is more important to adapt to your surrounds than trying to make civilization across the globe the same in terms of housing, food, and ensuring everyone has a DVD player and central AC. I have to agree with him there. He gave a great example of the damage we do by trying adapt the land to us instead of vice versa by showing us photos and footage of where Euro settlers had planted a large pine forest in south eastern Africa. Due to the non native nature of these trees, they sucked up all the water, and drove off the indigenous vegetation and wildlife. People didn’t mean to hurt the environment, but they did. However, as the natives began pulling down the pine trees over the past 7 years, the native flora and fauna sprang back almost immediately.

After his presentation (which only covered about half the trip), Fay opened up the floor to a Q&A session. Out of the three of us that attended, only one of us ended up receiving a comment card for writing a question down to our speaker. I guess this would be technical difficulty #3? Out of all the questions Fay received, he was read half a dozen of them by Mr. Lanyon. This took about 30-45 minutes and then the show was over.

After the show, one could purchase Michael Fay’s book, Last Place on Earth, except for the fact the copies of the book had not arrived in time for the show. This would be snafu #4 of the evening, and my opinion the biggest oops of them all considering the price tag for LPoE was $150 dollars. Plus shipping. Considering the cost of the book, not having and examples for people to thumb through probably turned more people off from buying it than actually purchased it. If you did buy it though, Michael Fay would sign s book plate for you.

And so that was it. Even with the cadre of errors that occurred, it was still highly informative and very educational. Most of the people that attended were in their 40’s to 50’s, but there was also a nice showing of high school and college students who we learned were leaving for Africa the following morning. What a nice way to start off their trip. Some people might balk at the 35$ (plus assorted fees if you go through Ticketmaster) for a two hour lecture, but I have to say it was quite worth it and I learned a lot about the African Ecosystem, how Giraffes fight, and a lot more. It was nice to see a large gathering of people (the State Theatre was almost sold out) there for a form of entertainment that was both intellectual and enlightening.

If you are interested in learning more about Michael Fay and the Megatransect, you can order the Last Place on Earth book from for “only” 94.50 and free super saver shipping. As well, if you want to see National Geographic: Live! events are coming to your town, simply go to and see for yourself.



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