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January 27, 2013: Staring Up At Sequoias, Climbing Rock with Ice Axes, and More

A team of scientists stretch while measuring the President, a giant sequoia tree. (photo by Michael Nichols)

A team of scientists stretch while measuring the President, a giant sequoia tree. (photo by Michael Nichols)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend, or pick your favorite segments and listen now below!

Episode: 1304 – Air Date: January 27

HOUR 1

Climbing rock is difficult. Climbing ice is dangerous. But when the two sports are combined into one event, the results can be treacherous. Sam Elias placed third in the Mixed Climbing Competition at the recent Ouray Ice Festival, despite a fall that could have left him seriously injured. He tells Boyd that he feels lucky to escape with minor cuts and bruises.

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Most people think of a vacation as a time when they step out of their daily lives and devote some time to themselves. But Ken Budd takes his travel from a different point of view. Following the death of his father, Budd began to reflect on his own legacy and decided to take volunteer vacations in New Orleans, China, Costa Rica, Kenya, Ecuador and the West Bank. All of the proceeds from his book, The Voluntourist, will benefit the groups with which he worked abroad.

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Some of the United States’ most unique flora are also its biggest. The giant sequoia, featured on the cover of December, 2012′s National Geographic magazine, are so big that their branches sustain an ecosystem of their own. Steve Sillett tells Boyd that The President, a 3,200 year old sequoia, isn’t the tallest tree in the world, or the widest, but it’s the second largest in terms of volume.

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Unlike elephants and rhinos, who are poached for a reason, bonobos are the victims of circumstance. They live in an area of jungle in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that doesn’t have a viable economy. Locals turn to the apes as a source of bushmeat, for a lack of other resources. Sally Coxe, president and founder of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, says that much of conservation focuses on providing locals with alternative sources of income that don’t revolve around poaching their closest ape relatives.

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David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, explains that elephants are losing their collective memory. As poachers decimate the numbers of mature elephants who are the keepers of elephant secrets like locations of watering holes and good sources of food. For the first time, it seems, the elephants are beginning to forget.

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HOUR 2

The Australasian Antarctic Expedition ended as a complete disaster. Things soured when an expedition member, along with the expedition’s six best dogs, their tent and most of their food rations fell into a deep crevasse. The remaining members of the expedition, Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz, survived by feeding the weaker dogs to the stronger dogs, and then eaten them. After illness claimed Mertz’s life, Mawson survived other hardships by sheer force of will. David Roberts‘ new book, Alone on the Ice, provides an in-depth history of the expedition that Sir Edmund Hillary called “the most outstanding solo journey ever recorded in Antarctic history.”

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Different explorers in different eras from all over the world may have more in common than their ambition and their willingness to take risks with their own lives.  David Dobbs, author of “Restless Genes,” in the January, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine, says that, rather than one gene, it is most likely a series of genes that encourages explorers to leave “normal” behind and live extraordinarily.

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Many people who visit Tibet have seen yaks. Despite the large numbers of domesticated yaks, Joel Berger tells Boyd, that there are very few wild yaks left. The animals, which occasionally maim and kill humans, are targeted by herders, because yak bulls have been known to “steal” domesticated female yaks. But the Chinese government has recently began to strongly protect the wild yaks, to prevent more losses of endemic Chinese species.

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Lions face many risks as a species. Africans villagers them because they’re a predator who frequently kill their livestock. Poachers take them as by-catch, as they try to kill elephants for ivory and antelope for meat. And Americans kill them because they’re the “King of the Jungle”. The lions make valued trophies because of their regal looks and fierce reputation. But, Jeff Flocken tells Boyd that it’s a crime in the United States to deal in endangered species, which is why the International Fund for Animal Welfare is prompting Americans to reach out to the United States Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, to have the animals listed under the American Endangered Species Act. That would make the distribution of lion parts illegal in the United States. 

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In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd reflects on a life well adventured and the collateral damage that has caused his knees, shoulders and feet. He documented a life of banging on his body in a video that points out there’s no such thing as too much fun.

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