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.
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Episode: 1315 – Air Date: April 14, 2013
Most people retire when they want to slow down and stop to smell the roses. But Len Stanmore decided to speed up when, early in his retirement, he was trekking on Mt. Kilimanjaro and learned of the quest to climb the tallest mountain on each continent, known as the Seven Summits. Just a few years later, he had achieved that task. And he ran 155 miles across the world’s most forbidding deserts. And he skied to both poles. But his adventures found meaning when he linked up with Trekking for Kids, to help improve the lives of orphans around the world.
Most biologists are careful not to give human traits and motivations to the animals that they study. But certain animals – apes, notably – do exhibit traits that once were understood as uniquely human. Comforting a group member in grief, providing care to the elderly, and expectation of equal treatment are all moral behaviors performed by primates that help explain a social moral code in humans. Frans de Waal is a primatologist whose new book, The Bonobo And the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates outlines the evolution of ethics and morals in apes in an attempt to explain the birth of religious belief in humans.
Biologists studying animals in the field often have to hike miles through jungles and brush just to get a single glimpse of their species. But Luke Dollar and Andrew Jacobson tell Boyd that drone technology allows biologists to survey a much wider area. Lightweight aircraft are fairly easy to control and can follow animals as big as elephants or as small as lemurs, in a wide variety of terrain. They brought a drone to Madagascar to track and study the fossa, which can be elusive in the jungles.
On a recent trip to Botswana, Boyd heard tales of locals who would steal a kill from a lion. While visiting Kwando Lebala Lodge, Boyd’s guide, Balepi Mokwami tells him that they would regularly encourage a lion to share the meal that they’ve killed. Mokwami says that surprising a lion can be the biggest mistake a person will make. His trick is to slowly approach the cat in plain view, and appear as unafraid as possible, even if the lion starts to charge.
David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, tells Boyd about a submerged continent that was recently discovered under the island of Mauritius.
Most significant scientific discoveries of significance are made after years of painstaking research. But sometimes, a scientist is in the right place at the right time. One night, just a few days before Halloween, on a dig site in the Sahara Desert, National Geographic Explorer and paleontologist Paul Sereno was showing a research assistant where they planned to work when he saw a human foot sticking out of the ground. Sereno tells Boyd that they happened into a 7,000 year old graveyard that lay on top of a dinosaur fossil bed where they located hundreds of human remains.
The human body is amazing. Just like rivers can reverse their flow, the human body can accept food through the rectum and be nourished. In her new book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, science writer Mary Roach points out that after an assassination attempt left President Garfield’s liver damaged, the surgeon general cooked up a recipe for beef enema to keep the president alive. Roach also explains how people can detect very minor smells and tastes in wines and olive oil, and she puts the myth of “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” to rest.
Many species of shark have their numbers dwindling, as each year more than 100 million individual sharks are pulled from the oceans. But following the recent CITES conference in Bangkok, five species of shark have been listed, so that countries that plan on continuing to harvest must track the numbers of whitetip, hammerhead, and porbeagle sharks that pull from the waters and do so in a sustainable way. IFAW Program Director Kelvin Alie is encouraged by what he calls “decisive action” to stop the unregulated trade in wildlife parts.
While demand for elephant ivory is causing the rapid decline of their numbers in Africa, a bloodless trade in elephant parts has originated in Siberia’s thawing tundra. Woolly mammoth tusks that have been frozen into the ground for thousands of years are providing a growing industry for tusk hunters who try to supply the increasing demand. The last mammoths died out 3,700 years ago, but many of their tusks can be found in pristine condition. Brook Larmer, author of “Of Mammoths and Men” in the April, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine, tells Boyd that 90% of the tusks are shipped to China, where they’re turned into ornate carvings that can fetch up to a million dollars.
Boyd loves spending time in Africa’s dry deserts and grasslands. After hunting lions on the hunt on foot, and learning to get close enough to an antelope to spear it, he gets a tutorial in quenching his thirst by digging up a water tuber and mashing its bulb to a juicy pulp and drinking the resulting moisture.