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March 2003 Archive

Britain's woods once welcomed the arrival of spring with a chorus of birdsong. But now they are falling silent, signaling a dramatic collapse in woodland bird populations. As ornithologists investigate this decline, a shy, innocent-looking animal is emerging as the prime suspect. This story updates the National Geographic BirdWatcher News Index.

South Africa, like many other countries, has been fighting a losing battle against the highly invasive South American water hyacinth. But now five bugs imported from the Amazon Basin are increasingly proving the country's answer to what has been dubbed the world's worst water weed.

For over six decades, Luis Marden—former National Geographic editor, photographer, writer, filmmaker, diver, sailor, navigator, pilot, linguist, raconteur, boon companion, and oh yes, explorer—was usually found somewhere on the other side of the globe. This morning, the man who seemed the very spirit of the National Geographic Society, died at the age of 90.

In Belize, the colorful realms of the Western Hemisphere's biggest coral barrier reef are showing the effects of unsustainable fishing—but some help has arrived. Conservationists and fishermen are working together on preservation programs that may promise a sustainable future for all.

Destructive fishing practices and mercury pollution are behind a rapid population decline in the Irrawaddy river dolphin, which lives in coastal and river waters across tropical Asia. The dolphin is known for helping local fishermen fill their nets on Myanmar's Ayeyarwady River.

The live animal market in Guang Zhou, China, sprawls for acres, with whole blocks crammed with vats and bins and buckets overflowing with thousands of turtles and tortoises. Dozens of species are represented, and this scene is mirrored in markets across China, in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Experts believe that up to four Chinese species may be extinct in the wild.

When a ship and a northern right whale collide, the whale loses—on average, a collision with a boat kills at least one right whale every year. But now the whales, and the conservation movement, have scored a significant victory. This story aired on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

A wildlife officer hiking in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, in 1994 discovered a stand of Wollemi pines, a species believed to have been extinct for 2 million years. Fewer than 100 trees live in the wild. As part of a conservation plan, horticulturists are cultivating the species, and hope to have up to 500,000 plants available for sale by 2005 or 2006.

Scientists studying the eight-year-old collapse of a massive chunk of Antarctica's Larsen Ice Shelf say the event spurred inland glaciers to surge seaward. The finding revives the theory that ice shelves "dam" glaciers and could affect models of sea level rise associated with global climate change.

Scientists have been pondering the question posed by the Neandertals—who were they, and what happened to them—since the first fossil remains were found in Germany's Neander Valley in 1856. By combining what can be told by fossils and artifacts with what has been learned by geneticists, they may be getting closer to some answers.

Researchers have unearthed a fossil ape that dates back 10 to 13.5 million years and could be an ancestor to the orangutan. The fossils were found during a six-year survey of a coal mine in northern Thailand.

On one of Earth's all-time worst days, a giant comet or asteroid struck Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula some 65 million years ago, ultimately killing the dinosaurs and 70 percent of life on the planet. A new high-resolution map, based on NASA imagery gathered from space, shows the most telling evidence of the 112-mile (180-kilometer) wide crater.

Correspondent Peter Arnett has covered 19 wars during a 40-year career. The veteran reporter is now back in Iraq, on assignment for National Geographic EXPLORER. National Geographic News recently spoke with Arnett about Saddam Hussein, the threat of war, and its impact on the daily lives of Iraqi citizens.

Wrestling a giant python, riding in a truckload of deadly cobras, suffering a bite from an Indian gharial—it's all in a day's work for Brady Barr, reptile expert and host of the National Geographic Channel's Reptile Wild television series.

Footprints impressed on the Earth millions of years ago are energizing the field of dinosaur paleontology which traditionally has relied on piles of old bones dug up from ancient sediments. By following their spoor, dinosaur researchers are able to track activities and lifestyles of the dinosaurs as they walked the Earth millions of years ago. View the full story and a photo gallery

H.L. Hunley Captain George Dixon's pocket watch represents a tiny time capsule sealed since the Civil War. Scientists excavating the interior of the recovered Confederate submarine have recently opened the watch and discovered yet another clue to the enduring mystery of the vessel's fate.

People in the Peruvian Amazon region live in isolation as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. To shield them from the intrusion of developers and natural resource extractors, human rights advocates recommend protecting the land where they now live. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Coastal development along Florida's Gulf Coast has brightened once-dark night skies, luring hatchling sea turtles from beachside nests and to parking lots and streets, where many are killed. But a program to darken the coastline of Sarasota County has improved long-term prospects for the sea turtle population.

Artistry is only one qualification required for illustrators to bring dinosaurs alive in National Geographic magazine. To ensure accuracy down to the detail of plants and background geology, "paleo artists" must be steeped in the latest research and work with scientists in a process that can take up to a year. This is the second story in National Geographic News' Dino Week. View the full story and a photo gallery

The Carolina Dog, a familiar-looking animal long known in the U.S. South as the "yaller dog," may be more than the common mutt that meets the eye. These canines live much like the dogs of ancient times, suggesting to researchers that they may be America's most primitive dogs with roots that could stretch back across the ancient Asia-America land bridge. This story airs tonight on the National Geographic Channel.

In an effort to safeguard traditional cultures of the Yora, Yine, and Amahuaca native peoples, the Peruvian government set aside 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) of Amazon River Basin jungle last April. The measure has met resistance from other Peruvians who earn their livelihood from the country's natural resources. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

When cuckoos put their chicks up for adoption they manage to keep it a secret. They do this by tricking the foster parents into thinking the nestlings are their own. But an Australian wren has now wised up to the cuckoo. Scientists say it marks an escalation in the evolutionary "arms race" between the birds.

Effective camouflage is crucial to any military campaign. Troops able to hide themselves and their weapons will steal a march on the enemy. Yet in developing the latest concealment technology scientists are seeking inspiration from two radiantly colorful creatures: butterflies and cuttlefish. This story airs on National Geographic EXPLORER this Sunday.

Museum dinosaur exhibits may soon whir and hum into action as lifelike robots walk around like the ancient creatures did millions of years ago. View the full story and a photo gallery:

The notion of fossilized dinosaur dung may draw wry smiles from some. But researchers who study coprolites say these dietary waste products can tell us much about the dinosaurs. Now, if they could only get a little more respect. View the full story and a photo gallery

Scientists studying fossilized footprints etched in volcanic ash in southern Italy say they date back 385,000 to 325,000 years, making them the oldest human footprints ever discovered. Occasional handprints are also visible. Researchers speculate the track makers tried to escape a volcanic eruption.

Loggers seeking tropical timber deep in the Amazon River Basin of southeastern Peru are increasingly clashing with indigenous peoples, who once lived there in isolation. Recent encounters between the two groups have resulted in violence. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Every week truckloads of farmers desperate for work leave their homes and begin the grueling journey down the eastern flanks of the Peruvian Andes to southeastern Peru, deep in the Amazon River Basin. The jobs await them are to log some of the most pristine forests left on the planet. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

The Maya were undoubtedly among the great ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. Then, in almost an instant, a society of some 15 million people imploded. What caused their collapse? The answer, say researchers, is climate change.

Scientists from around the world are mimicking the mechanics of insects as they design tiny flying robots to scout battlefields, search for victims trapped in rubble, and record images as they hover over distant planets. This National Geographic EXPLORER story airs this weekend on MSNBC.

On the eve of what could become a new war-generated refugee crisis, an old one worsens in western Kashmir. Twelve miles (19 kilometers) outside of Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Kashmir, the mountains once were green and empty. Now they are speckled with white tents. More than 100 refugees have just moved into a new camp there, above the Jhelum River.

Many dinosaurs had weird body parts: horns on foreheads like mythological unicorns, claws as long and dangerous as rusty pitchforks, spikes around their necks that made them look like displaced punk rockers. Paleontologists believe that these adornments—in addition to towering necks, feathered limbs, pointy fingers, and shrunken arms—had purpose. Discovering what those purposes were provides insight to the range of adaptive strategies throughout evolution. View the full story and a photo gallery:

National Geographic has ended an expedition to find the General Belgrano, sunk by Britain's Royal Navy during the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war. After nearly two weeks at sea, in extreme Southern Ocean weather conditions, the expedition was unable to find the ship.

Tensions are high deep in the Peruvian Amazon where thousands of desperate farmers from high in the Andes mountains have descended to scratch out a living by logging Earth's last remaining stands of pristine mahogany. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

When a forest goes up in flames normally elusive Melanophila acuminata beetles from miles around head for the inferno in droves, joining a mating frenzy so that the females can lay their eggs in the freshly burned trees. Scientists are hoping to mimic the beetle's extraordinary sensitivity to infrared radiation, technology of big interest to the military. This National Geographic EXPLORER story airs this Sunday on MSNBC.

Sharon Matola, a Baltimore-born biologist and environmental activist who is now a naturalized citizen of Belize, has led an international campaign to stop the Chalillo hydroelectric dam in her adoptive country. Matola, now director of the Belize Zoo, ended up in Belize 20 years ago by a circuitous route that included stints as a circus performer and lion trainer in Mexico.

The melting of an enormous Antarctic ice sheet 14,000 years ago triggered climatic changes in Europe and North America that ultimately led to the end of the last ice age, according to a new study.

Scientists have developed a new data transfer protocol for the Internet fast enough to download a full-length DVD movie in less than five seconds, the California Institute of Technology said today.

Veteran television news correspondent Tom Foreman is the host of the National Geographic Channel's Inside Base Camp, a daily one-on-one talk show in which he interviews leaders, opinion-formers, activists, scientists, and explorers. National Geographic News turns the tables on Foreman to find out what motivates him and what he sets out to achieve with his Emmy Award-winning show.

Movie star activist Danny Glover talks to Tom Foreman about the overwhelming problems facing Africa, and about his mission to influence world economic, educational, and governmental policies toward the continent. This is the first in a regular series based on Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman, the Emmy-award winning show that airs on the National Geographic Channel.

Scientists may have found a better way to detect concealed nuclear weapons-grade materials at border crossings around the world. Their method relies on particles generated by cosmic rays as they pass through Earth's atmosphere.

The looming war in Iraq is likely to take a heavy toll in terms of lives and property. But in a country regarded as the "Cradle of Civilization," there may also be substantial harm to irreplaceable cultural heritage in the form of damage to ancient structures, archaeological sites, and artifacts.

Even as the forces mass for a war in Iraq that will certainly displace thousands, school children in the United States and Caribbean nations are learning about the desperate plight of millions of the world's children who have fled their homelands as refugees of war and civil strife. To increase awareness of this issue, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees is sponsoring its third annual poster contest for students in grades 4 through 10 in public, private and parochial schools. The posters must be designed around the theme, "Shared Wishes, Shared Dreams: Refugee Youth and Us."

The Galápagos Islands—where Charles Darwin's theory of evolution took root—are facing increasing pressure from tourists and commercial fishing. A Web-exclusive photo gallery by National Geographic Traveler magazine showcases the incredible diversity of the sanctuary.

Veteran television correspondent Peter Arnett is in Baghdad for National Geographic EXPLORER and MSNBC News. Peter Arnett's Baghdad Diary airs on EXPLORER on weekends. Share his insights from the frontlines. Video clips:

Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at Sunday's Academy Awards, director Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York brings to life 19th-century Manhattan's Five Points neighborhood. But what was it really like to live in what was once the world's most notorious slum? Full story and photo gallery:

The Mongolian government plans to build an approximately 1,600-mile-long (2,600-kilometer-long) cross-country superhighway—the Millennium Highway—that would cut through the largest intact temperate grassland in the world at unknown risk to Asia's largest gazelle migration.

Not every sun-seeking family need set their sights on the beaches of California, Florida, or Texas for their spring vacations. Another, culturally-rich option lies just a short airline flight away: the Caribbean. National Geographic News recently spoke with Candyce Stapen, author of a new guidebook to the region, published by National Geographic Books.

Mountaineers traversing the high steppes of northern Tibet have located the prime calving grounds of the chiru, a rare Tibetan antelope imperiled by poachers seeking valuable shahtoosh wool. Conservationists hope the find will sway the Chinese government to protect the birthing ground.

Watching her husband Galen's career as a world-trotting adventure photographer from the sidelines, Barbara Cushman Rowell yearned for adventure of her own. She found it by learning to fly. In Flying South: A Pilot's Inner Journey Rowell chronicled her inspiring and, at times, dangerous 25,000-mile (40,000-kilometer) flight through Latin America.

Sizzle, sequins, sex, and murder. It sounds like the stuff of movies—and it is. But the Oscar-nominated courtroom musical Chicago is based on true murder cases: a laundry worker and a cabaret singer both accused of killing their lovers in 1924.

Astronomers searching for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life wrapped up their mission in Puerto Rico to home in on some of the more exciting radio transmission to reach Earth. They collected data on 166 sources, exceeding their original goal of 150.

Every day this spring, a pair of marine biologists will scour the seas for transient killer whales—roamers who prey in packs and count as the deadliest of their species. Transients have a taste for the gray whale calves, which they ambush. The biologists' goal is to catch a glimpse of the feeding frenzy. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

For years, scientists have known that human-generated problems like pollution and over-fishing damage coral reefs. So why would coral reefs off the coast of Belize, a country with a relatively small population, show signs of damage similar to reefs near densely-populated Jamaica? The answer, scientists say, is global climate change.

An unusual type of security force has taken wing at North American airports. Joining dogs that sniff out contraband in the customs halls, falcons have been enlisted to scare off gulls and other birds that can be hazardous for airplanes in the critical moments of take-off and landing.

Laura Blumenfeld is not a killer; yet she has stalked a man—the man who tried to assassinate her father—with revenge in her heart and a trace of murder on her mind. Laura's story tracks like a spy thriller through the twisting alleys of the Middle East and the pages of her acclaimed book Revenge: A Story of Hope.

A new study suggests Neandertals could touch the tips of their thumb and index finger, and may have been as dexterous as modern humans. The findings are significant because they could help researchers in their quest to explain why Neandertals died out 28,000 years ago.

National Geographic EXPLORER correspondent Peter Arnett gave a one-hour telephone interview to the U.S. media this week, describing what it is like to be reporting from Baghdad as the U.S.-led coalition closes in on the Iraq capital. With the sound of B-52 bombers offloading their munitions in the background, the 68-year-old veteran said he was "having a blast" reporting on one of the most important stories of his career.

Scientists have found a treasure trove of exquisitely preserved salamander fossils in northern China. Researchers say the 160 million-year-old fossils, which formed following a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, may help reveal evolutionary secrets.

Deadly asteroids, killer dinosaurs, alien invasions. Just when you thought Hollywood had done it all, a fresh end-of-the-world scenario opens in theaters tomorrow. But this time the action takes place 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) below our feet in The Core. Science correspondent Chad Cohen separates science from fiction. This program airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Deserts, mountains, and extreme weather like heat and violent sand storms are only some of the physical aspects that shape any conflict in Iraq. The concentration of most of the country's people in a relatively confined urban area also presents a big challenge to any invader.

The human intestine is a swirling and churning environment that is host to microbial communities as diverse as those found in the Amazon rain forest. And like the regions beneath the soils that carpet the rainforest floor, much of what lies within the gut remains unexplored.

Each spring and fall, hundreds of pronghorn antelope participate in one of nature's most spectacular choreographed rituals: their seasonal migration between high mountain summer pastures and lowland winter range in the American West. But civilization is crowding in on this herd's traditional migration route, threatening their survival.

The U.S. Navy has drafted in a crack troop of mine-seeking dolphins into the Persian Gulf, to help clear the way for ships carrying humanitarian aid and other vessels. Dolphin sonar is a precision tool for picking up hidden underwater objects, say experts.

National Geographic severed its relationship with reporter Peter Arnett today, citing his expression of "personal views" on state-controlled Iraqi television. Arnett, who has been reporting on the war from Baghdad, has apologized to the television companies and the U.S. people for his "misjudgment."

National Geographic has published a new atlas of the Middle East—an up-to-date collection of scores of maps, charts, and special sections that puts the spotlight on the 16 countries that make up this critical region. National Geographic News interviewed William L. Stoehr, managing director of National Geographic Maps, to find out how the atlas can help broaden the perspective of the region and to provide a better understanding of why the Middle East is so turbulent.

The United States is home to 150 million rats, by some estimates. Alberta, Canada, has none. The reason? Meet John B. Bourne and his seven-person crew of vertebrate pest specialists.

At first glance, the headlines sound plausible: Shark leaps from ocean to attack a hovering helicopter. Alabama legislature votes to change the value of the mathematical constant pi. But they are lies. Happy April Fools' Day. In celebration of the day, National Geographic News has compiled a listing of some of the greatest hoaxes in history.

Many of the great hoaxes of the past 50 years have involved reports of UFOs, extraterrestrial visitors, and contact with distant space civilizations. Even on the week of April Fools' Day, however, Seth Shostak is seriously listening to the stars. As a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, Shostak spends endless hours analyzing bursts of electronic noise drifting through the cosmos, captured by radio telescopes. This interview aired on the National Geographic Channel's Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman.



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