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September 2002 Archive

Less than 10 percent of the remaining habitat of the great apes of Africa and Southeast Asia—chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and orangutan—will be left relatively undisturbed by 2030 if road building, mining camps, and other infrastructure developments continue at current levels, a new report suggests.

Archaeologists have discovered a well and the remains of a building inside the boundaries of James Fort. The find suggests that the fort housing the first English settlers to arrive on the shores of North America in 1607 was larger than originally believed.

As the UN World Summit on Sustainable development draws to a close, delegates gave the 71-page action plan—which sets out proposals on an array of environmental, anti-poverty, and sustainable development issues—mixed reviews, and environmentalists blasted the agreement for being too weak.

Handsome, it's not. But the extraordinary ability of the toadfish to survive in ammonia levels that would kill almost every other creature, including man, could be the key to unlocking a medical mystery. This story is part of the Liquid Planet series airing on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

The omission of sustainable tourism from the agenda of the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, wrapping up in Johannesburg today, was almost unfathomable, says National Geographic Traveler Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows. "It's astounding that tourism wasn't front and center in the discussions, because it's central to the economies of most countries—and arguably among the three biggest industries in the world."

At the World Summit in Johannesburg, Gabon's president announced that his country will set aside more than 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) as a national park system to protect wildlife and diverse habitats. Conservationists, who regard Gabon as one of Africa's last pockets of wilderness, hailed the move as "courageous."

Over the past decade, Rwanda's gorilla population has increased by a remarkable 10 percent despite a horrific human genocide, incursions into the park by armed rebels, human-spread disease, occasional poaching, government upheaval and constant pressure from land-starved peasants, who hoe their potatoes less than an hour's easy walk from the gorillas' sanctuary.

It's clear that people have significantly altered the atmosphere and are the dominant influence on ecosystems and natural selection. The question now, scientists say, is whether humanity can learn to minimize the harmful impacts. Choices made in the next few years will determine the answer.

National Geographic Today sent producer Max Block, photographer Charles Walter and soundman/video editor Charles MacDonald to Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, to create a portrait of this city plagued by continuous conflict for almost a quarter century. Their challenge was to understand how a city in a country so isolated and unknown could, in the span of one week in September, suddenly occupy the world's center stage. What happened there? Why Afghanistan? And why now?

Every year crossbow marksmen from two Umbrian towns in Italy match skills in a target-shooting competition that has been held for more than 350 years. This weekend the Gubbio and Sansepolcro teams meet for the second stage of the event, which includes medieval pageantry. Full story and photo gallery:

The remains of Kennewick Man, a nearly intact North American skeleton more than 8,000 years old, have been at the center of a controversy since they were found in 1996. Native American tribes have claimed the bones as those of an ancestor and objected to scientific study, but a federal judge has ruled in favor of the scientists.

For a class of fourth-graders whose school is just four blocks from ground zero in New York City, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were all too vivid. A year later, they describe that horrible day and its aftermath in a National Geographic TV documentary, airing on EXPLORER this weekend. Full story and photo gallery:

Since Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl with the fierce green eyes, was "rediscovered" earlier this year, her story has moved thousands of people to contribute nearly half a million dollars to a fund established by the National Geographic Society and The Asia Foundation to improve the lives of girls and young women in her war-ravaged country.

The question has tormented zoologists for more than a century. Recently, biologists have explored the issue and put forth many theories. The latest suggests that splendid plumage conveys the strength of a male's immune system, signaling to females his desirability as a mate.

Repairing the damaged section of the Pentagon within a year of last year's terrorist attacks was deemed impossibly ambitious, but dedicated construction workers raced to meet a self-imposed deadline. Now, the reconstructed offices are open and ready for business—the product of a remarkable spirit of teamwork, dedication, and duty. Full story and photo gallery:

One of the mysteries of Egypt's Great Pyramid deepened early Tuesday when archaeologists penetrated a 4,500-year-old blocked shaft only to find another stone blocking their way. The opening of a sealed sarcophagus in a tomb nearby was more rewarding: Inside Egyptologist Zahi Hawass found the undisturbed skeleton of a top pyramid builders' village official. Full story and photo gallery:

At the one-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, two organizations that help children cope with trauma are presenting art made by young people in the days and months after the tragedy. Full story and photo gallery:

A year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, National sat down with a group of young Muslim students at the Islamic Center of Maryland to discuss how their lives have been affected in the past year. Most agree: "A lot of people have become curious about Islam." Full story and photo gallery:

Hundreds of environmental nongovernmental organizations have sprung up in China in recent years, reflecting not only greater awareness about environmental issues among the Chinese public but also a greater willingness to challenge authorities and force improvements.

A year ago the National Geographic Society grieved at the loss of two employees who were among the thousands who died in the terrorist attacks in the United States. Almost immediately, a groundswell of interest led to the creation of a geography education fund to honor Joe Ferguson and Ann Judge and support the work that was important to them.

Think you've got problems in your love life? Try being the mate of a European praying mantis who bites off her lovers' heads before sex, or Philodina roseola, which hasn't had sex for 85 million years. These are among the confused lovers that seek the advice of lonely hearts columnist Dr. Tatiana in an amusing science book that looks at the stranger side of evolutionary biology.

Travel took a hard hit after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, as safety fears kept people close to home. But the industry is gradually reviving, and National Geographic Traveler Editor in Chief Keith Bellows says now is a good time to take advantage of strong discounts on airfares and room rates.

A record number of people will gather in Sharpsburg, Maryland, this weekend for the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, which stands as "the bloodiest day in American history." U.S. Park officials say many visitors to the battlefield over the past year have looked to the historic event for inspiration in national renewal after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

With modern technology and a little bit of luck, archaeologists hope to solve two of ancient Egypt's mysteries next week in a live television broadcast. The scientists will attempt to probe the inside of a blocked shaft in the Great Pyramid of Giza, and will also open the oldest intact sarcophagus found in modern times. Full story and photo gallery:

About 65 million years ago a space rock slammed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and scattered debris around Earth, igniting wildfires in North America, the Indian subcontinent, and most of the equatorial regions. However, northern Asia, Europe, Antarctica, and possibly much of Australia may have been spared the inferno, according to a new computer simulation of how the fires spread around the world.

Primatologist Mireya Mayor studies lemurs in Madagascar, and she has just been named a field specialist and on-air correspondent for National Geographic's EXPLORER TV series. A documentary on her research airs this weekend.

Conservators using techniques as old as the masterpieces themselves can spend months if not years painstakingly filling in chips and cracks to return a work to its former glory—a process called inpainting. Now scientists have developed a computer program that could dramatically speed up the inpainting process. Hollywood and the U.S. Navy, among others, have expressed interest in the technology. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Astronomers located the first planets outside our solar system in 1995, and now—just seven years later—an international team of researchers has discovered the 100th "extrasolar" planet. This newest planet, announced today, orbits the star Tau Gruis, 100 light years from Earth, in the southern hemisphere's constellation Grus (the crane).

A burgeoning appetite for shark-fin soup has prompted the development of new genetic tests that will help safeguard the shark for commerce as well as conservation. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

It's small, it's fast, and it's bizarre-looking. Paleontologists in China have discovered the skull of a new dinosaur species with beaver-like buck teeth on its upper jaw and the beginnings of a beak on its lower jaw. The fossil adds another piece to the puzzle of how dinosaurs might be linked with birds.

Newly revealed inscriptions at an ancient pyramid in Guatemala suggest that the Maya civilization, at its peak, was dominated by two powerful city-states that engaged in a protracted "superpower" struggle.

The older we get, the tougher it is to pick up new skills like languages, music and mathematics. But a new study of juvenile and adult barn owls suggests that the older birds learn more, and faster, when their training goes step by step. This story aired on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

John Pollack and Garth Goldstein combined shipbuilding and buoyancy to create an ingenious craft made of 165,321 corks. They set sail on an improbable, 17-day journey on Portugal's Douro River. This story is by National Geographic Adventure magazine.

A team of forensic scientists is hoping the teeth of the eight crew members who went down with the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley 138 years ago will shed light on the lives of Civil War sailors. View a 360° image of the interior of the H.L. Hunley.

Scientists announced a major breakthrough in their long struggle to understand the weirdest stuff in the universe—antimatter, the mirror image of ordinary matter. A team of European physicists reported the creation in a Swiss laboratory of at least 50,000 atoms of antihydrogen, the fictional fuel in Star Trek's imaginary "warp-drive."

As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become more extreme, both trends have ominous implications for the spread of infectious diseases. Warmer temperatures enable carriers of disease such as insects and rodents to expand their range, and thus their ability to infect people.

For millions of years, comets have been swooping past Earth and occasionally bashing into us. Now, earthlings are turning the tables on those luminous, mysterious, potentially dangerous visitors from outer space.

Two years ago, villagers were notorious for stealing into the Ehotiles Islands Park in southeastern Côte d'Ivoire to illegally hunt the protected wildlife and farm the pristine rain forest. Today, however, this little corner of West Africa is demonstrating that often the most effective conservation efforts are not the ones that make the biggest headlines.

United Nations demographers who once predicted that Earth's population would peak at 12 billion over the next century or two are scaling back their estimates. Birthrates, they've been surprised to learn, are plunging in ways they never expected.

From Bangkok and Jakarta to Los Angeles and Mexico City, the car has created grid-locked behemoths of ugly ribbon development and spawned pollution problems that are now a global concern. Breaking that grip is a huge task. But cities in Europe may be leading the way.

It's clear that people have significantly altered the atmosphere and are the dominant influence on ecosystems and natural selection. The question now, scientists say, is whether humanity can learn to minimize the harmful impacts. Choices made in the next few years will determine the answer.

America has all but vanquished mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue and yellow fever from its territory—but mosquitoes always come back with another one. This time: West Nile virus. Scientists are concerned that several even deadlier diseases might follow its path.

Scientists who thought the number of Eld's deer in Laos had dwindled to a mere 10 were excited to find a new population of 50 more hidden in the country's remote forests.

Native American dancers from hundreds of tribes joined in a two-day powwow on the Mall outside the U.S. Capitol to call attention to construction of the National Museum of the American Indian.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory combined forces with the Hubble Space Telescope to bring the Crab Nebula star to life. This new video captures the spectacle of matter and antimatter propelled to nearly the speed of light by the rapidly rotating neutron star. Watch the video.

After more than six years of research, scientists have named the 500 most important bird areas in the United States. With a map already finished and a book on its way, the researchers hope their list of hotspots will help focus conservation projects where birds need them most.

Scientists exploring the Great Pyramid in Egypt sent a robot into the northern shaft in the past few days, discovering another blocking stone. The "door" appears to be identical to the one in the southern shaft that was already known. The doors are equidistant (65 meters/208 feet) from the queen's chamber. It is the third such block discovered within the shafts of the pyramid. Watch a video of the newest discovery. This story airs worldwide on the National Geographic Channel.

Part of the charm of southern New England, is that distinctive features of the landscape often occur on a human scale. Subtle in their appeal and sometimes hidden, these special places may not be readily noticed. A seasonal waterfall in Connecticut's Lower Paugussett State Forest is a perfect example, writes our birding and nature correspondent, Robert Winkler.

The radioactive decay of metal specks inside South African gold nuggets may have helped an international team of scientists determine the origin of the world's largest gold deposit. The discovery, described in a recent issue of the journal Science, not only sheds light on Earth's early geology, but promises to help future gold prospecting as well.

For close to 30 years, scientists have told us that humans and chimpanzees share 98.5 percent of their genetic material. However, new DNA analysis techniques may prove this number wrong.

In an effort to save the last large piece of pristine savanna in Africa, a band of Wyoming conservationists have received permission from the president of the Central African Republic to raise an anti-poaching militia to patrol the eastern fourth of the Texas-size country. They are permitted to shoot poachers on sight. This story is published by National Geographic Adventure magazine. Full story and photo gallery:

At first glance, the Salton Sea appears like a glistening mirage in the California desert—a shimmering landscape of reflected sky and sand. It is a bird-watcher's paradise with more than 400 species and waters that thrive with millions of fish, but the sea is threatened by a new proposal that would redirect its only water supply. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

During the late New Mexico summer and early fall, afternoon clouds gather over the mountain peaks. The rising desert heat pushes them into vertical towers until they burst forth into storms that produce fleeting, torrential rains, flash floods and remarkable displays of lightning. This is when Bill Rison, a lightning researcher, heads for the hills. This story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

A glorious testament to the artistic and intrinsic value of trash stands in the middle of the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, the capital of India's Punjab state. Called the "Rock Garden," this sprawling amusement "kingdom" has been made completely from waste material. Created by celebrated artist Nek Chand, the garden highlights the value of materials many people consider trash.

A female white spotted bamboo shark at the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit surprised zookeepers in July by giving birth to two babies. Why the surprise? It was a virgin birth: She hadn't been near a male for six years.

The Zen rock garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Japan is famous for its calming effect on visitors. A collection of rocks sitting in a bed of white pebbles, the garden has no plants—or does it? Using shape analysis, researchers have discovered that the patterns of the stones form a tree that is invisible to the eye but which is imprinted on the subconscious. Is this the 500-year-old secret of the garden?

At 102 years old, Ray Crist is believed to be the oldest worker in the U.S. His career in chemistry has spanned the past 80 years, from teaching to conducting research on the atomic bomb. Today, Crist has returned to inspiring young students, and he's researching methods to remove heavy metal pollutants from streams.

Most Americans wouldn't think of vacationing in the Middle East, but the region of 24 countries—from Turkey to Saudi Arabia—offers a rich and diverse history. So don't let a few hot spots scare you away. National Geographic Traveler magazine editor Keith Bellows shares some savvy traveling advice.

Bird-watchers are keeping their eyes open across the United States and southern Canada to catch a glimpse of migratory birds during their yearly migration to warmer southern climates. Many birds—from the more common blue jays to the elusive indigo buntings—begin their journey in late September.

Elephants that live in the inhospitable Sahel travel hundreds of miles a year along an arduous route that takes them from one water hole to the next. Shrinking habitat, increased drought, and human encroachment are putting their future in jeopardy. View an interactive map of the elephants' ancient highway, as tracked by radio collars and the satellites. Full story, photo gallery, and interactive map:

It was a cold, clear afternoon on September 9 when French snowboarder Marco Siffredi stepped off the summit of Everest on what was to be his second successful snowboard descent from the world's highest mountain. He hasn't been seen since—adding to the mountain's long history of tragedy and mystery. This story is reported by National Geographic Adventure magazine.

As rabies and other diseases push the highly endangered Ethiopian wolf to the brink of extinction, researchers hope to develop a vaccine that they believe could dramatically improve the chances for survival.

What if you were paralyzed by the idea of climbing a ladder, driving across town, or even encountering a clown at a child's birthday party? A new series airing on the National Geographic Channel, on U.S. cable television, looks at the phobias behind these unnatural fears and how people overcome them. logo