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August 2002 Archive

What began as a dream to cross the United States from Canada to Mexico, without setting foot on private property, will become a reality over the next two months. American Frontiers: A Public Lands Journey has launched two teams of trekkers who will use everything from horses to motorboats to journey nearly 3,000 miles across the United States. Along the way, they'll celebrate the lands we all own.

Mel Gibson's new film, Signs, is reviving public interest in the phenomenon of crop circles. In the real world, the battle to explain the formations is a torrid wrestling match between artists and people who believe in other-worldly influences.

Great white sharks are among the planet's most feared animals. But some experts think bull sharks, which can thrive in freshwater areas as well as the ocean, may be a greater threat to people. Are they responsible for some of the most widely publicized shark attacks?

New discoveries at Giza are shedding light on one of the ancient world's great mysteries: Who built the great pyramids, and how did they do it? Recent fieldwork supported by National Geographic has unearthed new finds in a "workers' city," offering a peek at the lives of those who created these enduring monuments.

An examination of 18,000 Australian snakes preserved in museum collections around the world shows that certain species may be slithering unnoticed toward extinction due to a lack of basic understanding of snake ecology. The finding, say the researchers, warrants an urgent call for increased funding for snake research and conservation.

The history of transatlantic aviation could see a new milestone this week, as an ambitious group of model-airplane makers launches an 11-pound ultra-light craft on a journey from Newfoundland to Ireland. If successful, it would be the first Atlantic crossing by a "true" model airplane.

The coyote, erstwhile symbol of the American West, has been quietly moving east for decades. While the sprawling suburbs of the Northeast have been ecologically hospitable, the coyote has faced a much chillier human reception because of ignorance and misconceptions. A Q&A helps sort fact from fiction.

The demand for cobra meat and medicines is soaring in China, with devastating impact on cobra populations in neighboring Vietnam. Now, a Vietnamese village has begun a breeding project both to earn money from cross-border trade and to preserve the threatened snake in its natural habitat. This story is part of our current Snakes Week series.

A team of amateur spelunkers has discovered caves filled with well preserved fossils of giant flat-faced kangaroos, marsupial lions, wombats, Tasmanian tigers, and other megafauna that lived in Western Australia during the Pleistocene era. Some paleontologists are calling it "the find of the century."

Something massive is moving on or within the Earth and causing the planet's gravity field to get fatter around the equator and flatter at the poles, according to a pair of scientists studying the field with sensitive satellite instruments. Researchers are also wondering whether the increase in the Earth's belt size might have an impact on the rate of rotation of the planet.

In some regions of the world, several species of snakes not only slither through the jungle but glide from tree to tree. Using digital video cameras and computer software, a researcher created a three-dimensional reconstruction of the snakes' flight that reveals remarkable aerodynamics. This is the third story in our current Snakes Week series. Full story and photo gallery:

Absentee dads are common in the animal kingdom—most sow their seed and leave without further ado. But in remote tropical rain forests of Papua New Guinea a researcher has discovered some frog fathers that not only guard the eggs but also provide transport, piggyback style, for their offspring. This story airs in the U.S. on National Geographic Today.

Venomous copperheads are dangerous. But if you encounter them during a woodland stroll they seem willing to live and let live—if you don't crowd them, nature writer Robert Winkler found out.

The New Caledonian crow is one of the few birds that probes for food with twigs, a form of tool use. Now, three British researchers have discovered that one such crow, a captive female, has gone a step further. Watch the extraordinary video of how this bird crafts a wire tool.

"Therapy dogs" are visiting people in hospitals and shelters where they do everything from lift spirits to assist with physical therapy. A recent study on patients offers scientific support that visits from man's best friend can have an impressive therapeutic impact. This is the fifth article in our series The Dog Days of Summer.

Paleontologists from a small museum in Rockford, Illinois, have found what they believe to be the skeleton of the tiny tyrant Nanotyrannus—a smaller, faster but equally ferocious meat-eating relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

A global "bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption" could drive half of Earth's species to extinction in this century, eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson warned at a meeting of scientists in Tucson this week. He said society should pay to protect biodiversity "hot spots" that are under threat.

Scientists struck a fossil bonanza in Central Otago—including the first proof New Zealand once had snakes. That is, it had snakes 15 to 20 million years ago during the geological time period known as the Miocene age. This concludes the National Geographic News Snakes Week series.

A global "bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption" could drive half of Earth's species to extinction in this century, eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson warned at a meeting of scientists in Tucson this week. He said society should pay to protect biodiversity "hot spots" that are under threat.

Scientists struck a fossil bonanza in Central Otago—including the first proof New Zealand once had snakes. That is, it had snakes 15-20 million years ago during the geological time period known as the Miocene age.

A vast blanket of pollution stretching across South Asia is damaging agriculture, modifying rainfall patterns, and putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk, a new study by the UNEP suggests. The findings indicate that the spectacular economic growth seen in this part of the world in the past decade may soon falter as a result of the "Asian Brown Haze."

Iceland is home to one of the world's largest colonies of puffins, and every August millions of newborn puffins leave their burrows in the cliffs of Heimaey to fly off over the north Atlantic. They leave at night, using the moon to navigate. But the streetlights of Heimaey seem to throw off some of the young birds' flight plans. When that happens, it's time for the children of Heimaey to launch the Puffin Patrol. This story aired on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Many deaf people are not fluent in English, which can pose major problems at airport security and in other situations where communication is crucial but sign-language interpreters aren't available. Now, researchers have developed a computer program that can act as translator.

Acid rain may be forgotten, but it is not gone, and now researchers at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology have linked it to the decline of the wood thrush, a forest bird known for its beautiful song.

Two individuals dedicated to preserving Africa's wildlife have received the first National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Annette Elisabeth Lanjouw and Lorivi Ole Moirana were chosen for their successful conservation efforts in southern and East Africa.

Big Daddy and Poppa Dragon are weedy sea dragons, a species in which sex roles are reversed. When Big Daddy and Poppa Dragon became proud fathers last year they set a world record: It was the first time that sea dragons had successfully given birth in captivity. Now, one year later their 40 fragile babies are thriving and revealing the secrets of their species. This story is part of the Liquid Planet series that airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Deceit, disguise, and danger set the tone at a new museum in Washington, D.C. that offers an inside look at the long-secretive international world of spying. The exhibit planners got expert guidance from retired members of the CIA, FBI, and KGB.

Noted nature and adventure photographer Galen Rowell and aviation adventurer and writer Barbara Cushman Rowell—who were killed in a private plane crash early Sunday in California—were mourned by friends and colleagues at the National Geographic Society this week.

Expedition photographer Gordon Wiltsie reflects on the life and accomplishments of Galen and Barbara Rowell—colleagues and friends who died in a recent plane crash.

Scientists have been able to produce the sperm of goats and pigs from tissue of those animals transplanted into mice. The research could have implications for the treatment of reproduction problems in a number of animals—and perhaps even in humans.

Parents looking to raise a family like to settle in communities where the schools are good and there's ample space to play—usually the suburbs. New research shows that birds also seek out the most favorable surroundings for breeding and hanging out.

A photograph circulating on the Internet showing a shark attacking a helicopter is hoax—and it's not National Geographic's "Photo of the Year" either. Story includes photo gallery.

Digging through avalanches, tracking lost hikers, or picking through the rubble of a disaster site, search-and-rescue dogs are truly best friends to those in need. These specially trained dogs have left their mark from Yosemite to Ground Zero. This is the last story in this season's series The Dog Days of Summer.

Ten Girl Scouts from around the country converged on South Carolina's Beidler Forest recently to look for spotted turtles, explore nature and find out girls can be scientists, too. For the second year, the Girl Scouts of America and the National Geographic Society have teamed up for a leadership institute.

Thousands of exotic big cats like lions and tigers are privately owned in the United States. One could be living next door to you. Acquiring these animals is surprisingly easy and legal in many states, but providing for their needs is tough—and the animals often have to be rescued and placed into sanctuaries. This story airs on National Geographic Ultimate Explorer tonight on MSNBC.

The brown-backed, speckle-breasted, eight-inch wood thrush only looks drab—all of his beauty is concentrated in his voice. Audubon and Thoreau are but two of the great naturalists who judged the wood thrush the best singer of any bird they knew. National Geographic News correspondent Robert Winkler offers his "review" of the virtuoso of the Eastern Forest.

An annual investment of $45 billion in preserving large tracts of wild nature would yield an annual return to society of between $4.4 and $5.2 trillion in "ecosystem services" like water filtration and climate regulation, a 100 to 1 return on the investment, according to a paper published in Science. But because the market doesn't capture the value of these benefits, there is no incentive for people to invest in conservation.

The Japanese have created an ice cream flavor designed to appeal to meat lovers: ox tongue. That and other unusual flavors of ice cream for taste connoisseurs were offered at an ice cream exhibition in Tokyo, the newspaper Mainichi reported. The flavors ranged from eel, octopus, and crab to chicken leg.

Possibly nowhere in the world is a good soak in a hot spring more appreciated than it is in Japan. But at a resort in Yamanouchi, in the heart of central Japan's hot springs country, the bathers are monkeys. Here, macaques with thick, sand-colored fur and bright red faces sit in the water like caricatures of their human cousins, relaxing, nodding off.

Waving atop an American embassy, the Stars and Stripes is a symbol of hope and freedom—and, for enemies of the United States, a highly visible target. A National Geographic television special looks at how U.S. diplomats work in some of the most difficult places around the world.

Satellite surveys have detected a sharp decline in plankton in several of the world's oceans, according to U.S. scientists. The situation could threaten the marine food chain and undercut one of the world's natural buffers to global warming. This story aired on National Geographic Today.

For 25 years, a pair of sturdy robotic explorers—Voyagers 1 and 2—have revolutionized humanity's picture of our solar system. They have come to symbolize humankind's deepening understanding of Earth's place in the cosmos.

One of the few civilian planes in the skies on September 12th, 2001, was carrying antivenin to treat a 62 year-old diabetic snake importer who had been bitten the day before by a seven-foot Taipan—an exotic from New Guinea, and one of the world's most deadly snakes. The job of treating the man fell to the Miami's snakebite squad, "Venom 1"—the only firefighting unit in the country equipped to deal with venomous bites. This story airs on National Geographic Today.

Though it has long been known by scientists that an ecosystem needs different kinds of plants and animals for optimal functioning, University of Georgia scientists have recently found that the genetic diversity of species within a habitat also affects ecosystem processes. "It is not just the quantity of species diversity that matters, it is also the quality of genetic diversity," said lead author Mike Madritch, an ecology doctoral student at UGA.

New surveys from satellites and aircraft document an alarming acceleration in the melting of glaciers around the world. The swift retreat of these great ice streams is helping to raise ocean levels and is threatening significant changes in human, animal, and plant life—some good, but mostly bad.

Someone is killing the cats of Prenestina, news that would be upsetting in any town, but that is positively traumatic in Rome. This is a city where even stray cats get names and loving care from gattari, residents who feed and stroke strays in plazas and doorways.

The Indian edible-nest swiftlet is a slender, sparrow-size, brown bird with a slightly forked tail. Its relatively tasteless nest is sometimes prepared in soup mixed with chicken, spices, and other flavors as an aphrodisiac, which makes them a much sought-after property. This story appears in the current issue of National Geographic BirdWatcher.

Nobody knows what the Incredible Shrinking Man of a 1957 science-fiction film saw when he disappeared from view, but the U.S. Department of Energy wants to find out. It's building five nanoscience facilities that will study the science of the very small.

The iconic mane of a lion has always been a mystery to biologists. The wreath of fur is somewhat akin to wearing a woolen scarf at the peak of summer—a hot and heavy burden around the neck. Now two biologists suggest that these luxurious tresses have a higher purpose than vanity. They suggest that the manes themselves are indicative of health, and that males with the darkest, most decadent manes are the worthiest suitors.

Scientists have found traces of an asteroid collision that they say would have created a giant tsunami that swept around the Earth several times, inundating everything except the mountains. The coastline of the continents was changed drastically and almost all life on land was exterminated.

National Geographic News correspondent Robert Winkler tells of his elation at being on the receiving end of an attack by a female northern goshawk—a formidable raptor with a four-foot wingspan, swooping down on him at probably 30 miles an hour.

An international team of medical researchers and anthropologists has determined that a gene mutation found only in humans and not in our evolutionary cousins, the apes, occurred more than two million years ago, just prior to human brain expansion but after human ancestors stood upright.

The Summit on Sustainable Development opened in South Africa today. About 40,000 delegates from across the world—including more than 100 government leaders—will be taking stock of how the planet's finite resources can be developed and shared to address poverty, create sustainable development, and conserve precious resources.

United Press International correspondent R.W. Johnson looks at the other side of the Johannesburg summit: a cacophony of interest and protest groups sounding off about a wide range of issues. The summit is ringed by unprecedented security against attacks from every conceivable quarter.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are all shook up in India because garish advertisements promoting their fizzy drinks have been daubed on rocky outcrops in the ecologically sensitive Himalayas. The Supreme Court of India has charged the multinational companies with violating environmental laws—while environmentalists and geologists are up in arms about the marring of spectacular mountain scenery.

Delayed implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and reduced official development assistance have destroyed Japan's dream of playing a leading role at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, according to Japanese government officials.

One of the more unusual applications for Calvin Klein's cologne, Obsession for Men, is at the Bronx Zoo, where it drives the female cheetahs wild. Scientists discovered this little-known fact while investigating how to create a more stimulating environment for captive animals—a science called "animal enrichment." This story airs on National Geographic Today.

Geckos, nature's supreme climbers, can race up a polished glass wall at a meter per second and support their entire body weight from a wall with only a single toe. Now scientists have unlocked some of the secrets of how the gecko can do this—and the research could lead to the development of new adhesives.

While delegates from 190 countries, the most ever to attend a UN meeting, continued to haggle over language at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, 130 chief justices and senior judges argued that there were already enough environmental laws and what was lacking was the will to implement them.

Roughly seven weeks ago the City of New York released four bald eagles in a park at the northern tip of Manhattan, hoping to re-establish the bird as a local resident. Since then one of the four eagles has flown the coop. And another met with a train accident and was brought back from the dead on the operating table. This story airs on National Geographic Today.

A resident walking her dog on the Isle of Skye—long known to scientists as Scotland's "Jurassic Island" because of its large number of fossils—found the footprints of what may have been a large meat-eating dinosaur. Scientists have since uncovered many more tracks on the same beach, finding new clues to what kind of animals walked there 160 million years ago.

With the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development underway in Johannesburg this week, much is being said about sustainability and development. But the challenge is to put development ahead of sustainability, says Bjorn Lomborg, author of the The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Birding correspondent Robert Winkler discovers a worm-eating warbler's nest in the woods. How do these birds survive when they build their nest on the ground, so vulnerable to predators, he wonders.

Rumpelstiltskin, the fairy-tale rogue who spun straw into gold, has nothing on Miguel Yacaman and Jorge Gardea-Torresdey. The two University of Texas researchers have developed a way to draw gold from wheat, alfalfa, or—best of all—oats. logo