Meeting an old friend

By Matthieu Ricard on February 13, 2010

A study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), showed that the Arctic tern, whose annual migration is the longest of any animal, travels 70,000 km each year during its seasonal movements between Greenland and Antarctica. When you consider that an Arctic tern can live up to 34 years, the distance traveled during a lifetime of migrations is equivalent to three round trips to the Moon. This report reminded me of my fascination, as a teenager, with ornithology; I had banded several birds, and one of them, a warbler, was later found in South Africa.

It was then I met André Fatras, a wilderness enthusiast and a great wildlife photographer. With his young 18-year-old bride and their son, just a few months old, André had gone down the Loire on a raft, which finally ran ashore onto the beach in front of the home of my uncle, the round the globe sailor Jacques-Yves Le Toumelin. We quickly became great friends, and it is André who taught me photography during my many stays at his countryside home in Sologne. André has traveled around the world, from India to the Galápagos Islands to Africa. He has been dropped off onto the Spitsbergen pack ice to photograph snow geese and other species of the Far North, bringing with him, as part of his provisions, a 70-kilo round of gruyère cheese. In Antarctica, he photographed his son Benjamin dressed up as a penguin, one among a million emperor penguins.

André also did nine trips to the Kerguelen Islands. These islands' recent plight is a good example of the devastation caused by man. Most of these islands are now invaded by cats, rats, and rabbits, which were brought there by man; they are devouring each other up, having completely decimated the local fauna. However, a small stretch of island, approximately twenty kilometers long, still remains protected due to a snowy elevation, which predators cannot cross. This is where André spent months in a basalt cave with his family (a first in Kerguelen history), taking photos of the indigenous wildlife in all its splendor.

Last December, on a beautiful snowy winter's day, we had the joy of getting together—Dédé, Mati, Benjamin, our pal Yves (photographer of butterflies and mushrooms, among other things) and myself, Mama, also known as ‟Nincompoop”—in their Sologne home.