Monitoring Wilderness From The Air

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Scientists are using cutting-edge technology to help preserve the last true wildernesses in Africa, and aviation is playing a leading role. Dr. Mike Fay, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, has spent the last six months crisscrossing Africa by Cessna in a project called Megaflyover Africa. His mission is to examine places relatively untouched by humans (no roads, lights, or railways). In his semi-regular dispatches to a Web site set up by National Geographic, Fay finds hope for the wilderness by spotting wildlife he didn't expect to see. He also sees trouble coming as some countries begin to exploit their oil wealth. The practical side of intentionally operating an aircraft where there are no services for it is a common theme through the journey. On one stop Fay had to wait for eight hours while fuel was brought in by truck. And while much of the journey seems to follow a theme of discouragement and concern for the future, there are pockets of hope. For example, a group of volunteer guards has for 15 years protected from poachers an area of Zakouma National Park in Chad, and all species are recovering from a previous slaughter fueled by high ivory prices and a seemingly endless supply of war-surplus automatic weapons.