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April 2003 Archive

Sure, most people know Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were first to stand atop the world's tallest mountain. But can you name the first woman to summit or the first snowboarder to descend?

Researchers are counting on a small South American grasshopper—Cornops aquaticum—to help them combat the "world's worst water weed": the water hyacinth, which chokes waterways in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. A related story on the water hyacinth airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Cuckoos aren't the only birds that leave parenting to others. American coots often lay eggs in neighboring nests. But new research shows female coots have found a novel way to avoid becoming foster moms. They keep tally on what's theirs and what's not because they have learned to count.

Paleontologists studying tooth marks found on bones of Majungatholus atopus, a large, meat-eating dinosaur that roamed Madagascar about 65 million years ago, suggest the dinosaur practiced cannibalism.

Admirers call it "the wild world's Scotland Yard" whose scientists are "animal detectives." Each year the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory tackles approximately 900 crimes against wildlife where the evidence ranges from a whole carcass to bits and pieces. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Scientists have long known that females of many bird species are attracted to males with the most impressive ornamental features, such as the longest tails, brightest colors and loudest songs. Now, researchers have demonstrated a link between one of these flashy ornaments and the strength of the immune system in two species of bird.

Here are the answers to some of the questions asked of nearly 5 million students who took part in the preliminary round of the 2003 National Geographic Bee.

Here are some of the questions asked of nearly 5 million students who took part in the preliminary round of the 2003 National Geographic Bee.

Sun-struck Los Angeles sometimes seems like paradise, but life comes at a price: earthquakes. Now the threat of "the big one" may be greater than previously feared. Researchers have identified an active fault that may have caused at least four large-magnitude earthquakes in the past 11,000 years.

Students across America face off tomorrow to determine the 55 state champions of this year's National Geographic Bee, an annual competition in which nearly 5 million students compete for the title of national champion and a scholarship worth U.S. $25,000.

Between an outbreak of sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the war in Iraq, it's no surprise travelers are postponing trips or canceling plans altogether. But war is no excuse to stay home, says Traveler Editor Keith Bellows.

This week, the world's highest medical clinic opened at Mount Everest Base Camp. The tent-based clinic seeks to treat climbers and porters for high altitude sickness, frost bite, and other ailments during the April and May climbing season. National Geographic Adventure magazine recently spoke with Luane Freer, the American doctor behind the operation.

Iraqi tactics of faking surrenders and using civilians as human shields have rekindled a long-running and boisterous debate over the rules governing armed conflict. Are laws of war relevant when they are so easy to break and so seldom punished?

The numbers of great apes in Gabon have been halved in less than 20 years, felled by disease and poaching, researchers report. Experts fear the decline is steeper outside Gabon and that, unless trends are reversed, wild great apes could become effectively extinct in Africa within two generations.

Romance, fights, comedy, infidelity—all these enliven prime-time TV soaps. Similar elements make urban parakeet colonies compulsive viewing for city folk. As the colorful birds continue to spread, their audience figures are set to rise.

For a small number of churches, found mostly in Appalachia in the Southeastern United States, handling venemous serpents during religious services is an often dangerous, sometimes deadly, century-old calling.

For bird species whose males and females differ in color, guys with the brightest feathers tend to have the greatest lady luck. New research confirms that birds with the gaudy plumage also tend to die earlier. This is not a problem for the species as vacant territories are quickly recolonized by new generations—provided that sprawl and other human development do not get in the way.

When Hillary summited Mount Everest on May 29, 1953, he surveyed an utterly pristine place. Nearly 50 years later, the scene surrounding the world's tallest peak is starkly different: traffic jams, high-paying clients, piles of trash, and plans for the world's highest cybercafé.

National Geographic has released the names of the winners of the 55 state-level National Geographic Bee competition, held across the United States over the past few days. Full list of winners, sample questions:

Hollywood director James Cameron has returned to the Titanic's storied shipwreck, this time with unmanned robots and deep-sea submersibles. His new 3-D IMAX documentary, The Ghosts of the Abyss, explores rooms unseen since 1912. Science correspondent Chad Cohen talks with Cameron tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today. Full story and photogallery:

Recent scares about biological and chemical terrorism—and the rapid spread of the mysterious new disease SARS—has renewed fears that the unseen enemy of viruses, microbes, and microscopic poisons, can be more terrifying than the largest army. But is the U.S. prepared for a massive attack? Not remotely, journalist Laurie Garrett tells Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman.

The military has some of the most sophisticated equipment available. But when it comes to detecting hidden explosives, its technology can't match the accuracy of a dog's nose. Whether on the frontlines of Iraq or on security patrol on the home front, these four-legged soldiers still have the best equipment to sniff out hidden explosives and help save lives.

When an apartment complex in Hong Kong suddenly turned into the latest epicenter of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) last week, health officials were puzzled. How could a virus that is usually transmitted by a simple cough or a sneeze infect hundreds in a building with no central ventilation?

Genetic markers commonly found in modern humans all over the world could be evidence that our earliest ancestors were cannibals, according to new research. Scientists suggest that even today many of us carry a gene that evolved as protection against brain diseases that can be spread by eating human flesh.

This month Conrad Anker returns to Everest, but not for a summit attempt. Rather, the elite mountaineer will provide color commentary for Global Extremes: Mt. Everest, the latest—and perhaps inevitable—reality television program that aims to send five amateur climbers to the summit.

Fierce combat has not hampered National Geographic EXPLORER TV producer Gary Scurka's determination to report on the story as it happens. But the veteran journalist's live battlefield dispatches are not his only objective.

A mysterious group of apes in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo has scientists and conservationist scratching their heads. The apes nest on the ground like gorillas but have a diet and features characteristic of chimpanzees. Researchers suspect the apes may be a band of giant chimpanzees.

During the long, cold winter the wilderness of Alaska and the Yukon is not what one would think of as bicycle country. Yet as the northern spring approaches, the "Bikes on Ice" adventure is re-enacting two amazing cycling feats from the region's hectic gold rush past.

More than 20 expeditions are expected to be climbing on Everest in this 50th summer after the world's highest peak was first successfully scaled. Amongst them is a team that was selected from more than 30,000 amateurs from across India. Mission Everest, sponsored by National Geographic Channel India, will be accompanied by an elite team of climbers from the Indian and Nepalese armies.

Waging a "little war against a big mountain," the National Geographic Society-sponsored 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition placed the first Americans atop the world's highest peak and pioneered a new route to the summit.

Skies punctuated by columns of smoke, cities covered with dust, limited access to clean water and sanitation facilities, and looted hospitals are devastating blows to the people of Iraq. Due to despotism, previous conflicts, and economic sanctions, the country's infrastructure was already disintegrating before the war. Now relief agencies are bracing for a humanitarian disaster.

Scientists have cracked the genetic sequence of the virus believed to cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The sequencing reveals a virus that began its life in an animal, then mutated before picking up the power to infect people.

Comic-book super heroes always sense when there is trouble afoot, and swoop in to save the day. Real life, of course, is different, unless you know Peter Knights, an investigator for WildAid who travels the world to expose illegal trade in endangered species. He talks to Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman.

Comic-book super heroes always sense when there is trouble afoot, and swoop in to save the day. Real life, of course, is different, unless you know Peter Knights, an investigator for WildAid who travels the world to expose illegal trade in endangered species. He talks to Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman.

Sidelined over decades because of their dwindling numbers and ancient way of life, the San people of southern Africa have dwindled to a few struggling communities living on the edge of society. But now their traditional knowledge may be their salvation; international drug companies have agreed to pay royalties for an appetite-suppressant the San have been chewing on for thousands of years.

Two tiny tribes of San, among the last of Africa's most ancient people also known as Bushmen, are at the center of a bitter argument between the government of Botswana and Survival International, a British-based indigenous peoples' rights group. At issue is the ancestral land of the San—and a familiar fight between a relatively impotent traditional culture and the forces of economic development.

Dogs respond well when they are trained to help people with disabilities. They lead the blind, alert the deaf, and retrieve items for the physically challenged. Now dogs are being trained to alert people to their impending seizures. Trained service dogs with this ability provide people who suffer from seizure disorders greater mobility and security.

The remarkable albatross, which can circle the Earth several times without resting on land, is being dragged down and drowned by hooks set by fishing vessels. Conservation groups say urgent action is now needed if this iconic bird is to be saved from extinction.

A 51-year-old Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll has broken the longevity record for North American birds in the wild. The previous record, also held by a Laysan albatross, was 42 years and five months.

Chocolate bunnies may be abundant this Easter season, but some real-life rabbit species around the world are becoming increasingly rare. In Europe, declining rabbit populations have strained natural food chains. While in the United States, conservationists say disappearing rabbit numbers signal declining health of grassland and sagebrush ecosystems.

A century ago the night sky was a black expanse pricked by thousands of stars. Then came Edison's light bulb, and light pollution—the luminous orange glow that haloes cities and suburbs and erases the stars. Our over-lit nights also impact animals by disrupting biological rhythms and interfering with the behavior of nocturnal animals.

Veterinary teams and animal welfare workers are poised to go to the aid of the zoo animals left in Baghdad as soon as travel restrictions are lifted. There are concerns that many animals have been slaughtered for food, others have escaped, and those still in their enclosures may be starving or wounded.

Dug up or done up? Two Biblical-era artifacts from Israel serve to illustrate the problems surrounding antiquities of vague origin. Some scientists question the authenticity of the inscription on a stone burial box linking it to James, brother of Jesus. Other scientists contest the authenticity of a stone tablet raising Jewish claims to Muslim mosque sites.

As the focus in Iraq begins to shift from fighting to rebuilding, international groups are calling for environmental fixes to be part of the overall plan.

Questions raised about the authenticity of a 2,000-year-old ossuary thought to have once held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, may be a step closer to resolution. The authenticity of the ossuary itself was generally accepted, but many scholars questioned whether all or part of the inscription, which reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," was a forgery.

The South Pacific's Vanuatu is an 80-island nation without traffic lights, street postal service, or even a McDonalds. What it lacks in 21st-century amenities, it makes up for with traditional culture. Vanuatu hosts some of the most remote and untouched bush tribes in the world. Zoltan Istvan introduces us to these tribes tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

A report from the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC states that some 200 species of cacti in the Southwest U.S. Chihuahuan desert are threatened by harvesters of wild plants. Landscapers who use desert plants in Arizona, Nevada, and other dry states also contribute to the wild cacti depletion.

Earth is aging, and a result of this will be the eventual end of all life—and eventually the physical destruction of the planet itself, according to a new book, The Life and Death of Planet Earth. But, the authors say, judicious understanding of its life-support systems and other measures could extend the lifeline of Earth as a habitable planet.

Like many parts of the world where burgeoning human populations are putting pressure on wilderness sanctuaries, India has its share of problems caused by poaching and illegal trade in protected species. Now, in a project funded in part by the World Bank, the Periyar Tiger Reserve has found that the most effective means to prevent poaching is to employ poachers as guards.

A sprinkling of tiny trout has put the finishing touches to the remarkable revival of a London river. Twenty years ago the Wandle was an open sewer, filled with the human and industrial waste of Europe's largest city. But today its bright waters are streaming with life. The return of the healthy river is being helped along by school children and senior citizens working together in the Jet Set Club.

From its inception, Earth Day has been about fostering respect for the natural environment and accordingly, working to protect it. For some folks, however, the slow quest for improvement is simply not enough, and they have pledged themselves to radical change. Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman interviews Leslie James Pickering, a spokesperson with the North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office.

Chris Johns, director of illustrations and senior editor for National Geographic magazine, is one of the world's preeminent wildlife photographers. American Photo magazine recently recognized Johns as one of the "25 most important photographers." National Geographic News recently spoke with Johns about the environmental ethos behind his work.

If one-third of the U.S. population would tweak a few habits, according to the authors of a new book, enough carbon dioxide would be saved to achieve the U.S.' original emissions-reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol. Each household that makes the effort could save as much as $2,000 a year.

In high-energy New York City, The Solaire is a building permanently on power-save mode. When final construction ends later this year, the 27-story building, located just a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, will stand as the world's most environmentally responsible residential high-rise.

As the death count from SARS rises, health officials struggle to understand the potential of the viral threat and to frame a battle plan. But as researchers reveal, it isn't easy to gauge whether SARS, or any virus, can trigger a global epidemic. SARS updates appear on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Turmoil in the Mideast and rollercoasting gasoline prices have focused attention again on the world's addiction to crude oil. But an alternative fuel gaining respect is vegetable oil. It can be grown on the prairie and, when used as fuel, makes almost no contribution to global warming. Best of all, veggie fuel biodegrades quickly, is nontoxic, and the exhaust smells like french fries.

The Palmers have experienced reality—National Geographic-style. The suburban family of five from New Jersey went to live for nine days as members of the semi-nomadic Rendille tribe in the northeastern Kenya desert. Their trials and triumphs were captured in the premiere of the National Geographic Channel's new series, Worlds Apart.

A captive New Caledonian crow called Betty made a splash in the media last year, when she fashioned a tool from a piece of wire. Now scientists say the birds may prove to be better tool-crafters than chimpanzees, perhaps even challenging one of the abilities that defines humanity.

California-based bioengineer Michael Dickinson has built an entire research lab, not to mention a professional career, dedicated to answering just how a fly's brain controls its muscles in precision flight. At last, some answers.

Constructing a representative government from the ashes of Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime is a daunting challenge for Iraq. "If you look at an ethnic map, you'd say that Iraq's political geography is at odds with its cultural geography," says geographer Harm De Blij, distinguished professor at Michigan State University.

An enormous squid caught near Antarctica is seen by some as proof that the terrifying sea monsters of mythology may have had a basis in reality. But scientists say this strange giant—so rarely seen that this is the only documented sighting of it alive—is not the terrifying, ship-sinking behemoth of sailors' lore.

Falling wholesale prices caused by overproduction has created a crisis for coffee farmers worldwide. Producers are turning to livestock farming and the cultivation of illicit drugs, both less eco-friendly endeavors. Coffee plantations are being abandoned or transferred to new lands that are being deforested because they are cheaper to operate.

Once a mountaintop where howler monkeys roamed, the lush island of Barro Colorado in the middle of the Panama Canal, is now also populated by scientists at work for the Smithsonian Institution's Tropical Research Institute. The island's tropical forest is one of the most intensively studied preserves on the planet.

Fifty years after the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, take a remarkable journey back to the Summit with the sons of three legendary Everest climbers. Experience the dangers and drama of Everest, and uncover untold stories of tragedy, triumph, and rivalry that color this mountain's history—Surviving Everest, airs on April 27, 2003 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

For some mountaineers, the top of the world also represents the peak of human ambition. But when things go badly high on Mount Everest, as they often do, difficult moral dilemmas play out in dramatic fashion on a global stage.

Training for Mars, scientists are testing robots designed to find microscopic life-forms in Chile's Atacama desert—one of the most inhospitable corners on Earth. The three-year mission is sponsored by NASA's astrobiology exploration program.

The global population of saiga antelopes has fallen 80 percent. Of the antelopes that remain, most are female and the males cannot mate often enough to repopulate. Excessive hunting of the males for their antlers caused the imbalance of the sexes.

A new study calls for the swift expansion of some of China's great panda reserves. Chinese and American scientists say that the protected habitat in some areas is so fragmented by development and agriculture that the animals find it near impossible to travel to new areas, and remain at high risk of extinction.

Scientists studying trade statistics from Hong Kong's bustling dried seafood markets have found that the global shark fin trade may have been significantly underestimated. The study intensifies conservationists' concerns for sharks and other threatened marine species.

Elephants aren't the only animals with long memories. A new study suggests birds like the garden warbler can memorize—and remember for a long time afterwards—complicated route maps to help them find their way during seasonal migrations.

The hunt for priceless antiquities looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad has moved to cyberspace. Scholars in Chicago have created a Web site to catalogue artifacts and help trap smugglers. The online "wanted" posters may also dissuade international art collectors and dealers from trafficking in illicit artifacts.

New research adds to increasing evidence that tea is not only a much-loved beverage, but may offer a host of health benefits as well. A recent study reveals how substances found in tea may help prime the body's immune system to fight off infection. Other chemicals in green tea may be linked to skin cell rejuvenation.

Researchers in China are watching Da Shuang—a young female panda—for signs she is ready to mate. Correspondent Patty Kim takes us behind the scenes at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to show us how tough it is to breed, and hand raise, giant pandas tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today. Full story and photo gallery:

Memphis Zoo visitors this week are hoping to grab a peek at the multi-million-dollar panda pair that are the zoo's newest residents. Behind the public clamor, researchers from five universities seek to learn more about the species' nutritional ecology and foraging strategy.

The mummy that many scholars believe is ancient Egypt's King Ramses I has gone on display in Atlanta's Carlos Museum. Snatched from its grave by tomb raiders more than 140 years ago, the mummy ended up as a "freak" in a Niagara Falls museum of oddities. It will be returned to Egypt as a gift from the people of Atlanta when the exhibit closes September 14.

Flamboyant rock artist Ted Nugent earned the title Motor City Madman and has sold more than 30 million recordings. But he has another passion: hunting. And these days, through radio, television and books (including Kill It and Grill It) he preaches the gospel of conservation through utilization. Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman interviews him. logo