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August 2003 Archive

The Greek government has decided to build an Olympic rowing center on the ancient Athenian battle site of Marathon in the western Schinias marsh. Conservation groups are fighting for the protection of the site before the 2004 Olympics in Athens kick off.

As a young man, David Western spent four years herding cattle and goats with red-robed Masai tribesmen in the Kenyan bush. There, he found something remarkable: Contrary to conventional conservation wisdom, cattle grazing fertilized the land and improved species diversity.

Nothing thrills and chills quite like a snake—unless it's a really, really big snake. National Geographic's Ultimate Explorer TV series went around the world in search of constrictors—the family of giant snakes that literally squeeze the life out of their prey.

In a stark, almost alien landscape in southern Africa is one of the world's most plentiful, and endangered, ecosystems—a desert called the Succulent Karoo. Here researchers are studying flora for impacts of global warming. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

After 20 days at sea, ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau has reached Kure, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Pacific Ocean atoll marks the turning point of Cousteau's five-week expedition to explore and film one of the last pristine, large-scale coral reef ecosystems on the planet.

A thunderstorm that pounded south-central Nebraska in June ended up leaving something for the record books: The largest hailstone ever recovered in the United States, a 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) chunk of ice almost as wide as a soccer ball.

The Southern Ocean ecosystem is threatened by overfishing, say scientists. The warning came at a major conference in London in July, with Antarctic researchers forecasting increased pressure on krill and fish stocks. They fear this could have a devastating impact on sea birds and marine mammals.

National Geographic News recently spoke with Ultimate Explorer television correspondent Michael Davie in Freetown, Sierra Leone, shortly after his evacuation from the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Davie described his experiences in the war-torn West African nation.

Ichthyosaurs were the giant marine predators of Jurassic and Cretaceous seas, thought to have specialized on squid-like prey. Now a new fossil with turtle and bird remains in its gut is causing some experts to question why the group disappeared.

Twenty years ago, scientists discovered a hole in the Earth's ozone layer above Antarctica. The protective atmospheric layer showed signs of other widespread damage. Now after a decade-long ban on ozone-depleting chemicals, scientists report on the first hints of recovery.

Media hype surrounding the SARS epidemic spurred an 82 percent drop in tourist visits to China this past year. Despite the hit, the Chinese government hopes its tourist industry will soon bounce back. Which means now is the time to visit, says Traveler Editor in Chief Keith Bellows.

At fantasy camps, folks can learn guitar licks from rock-and-roll greats, shag flies with baseball Hall of Famers, or cook at the elbows of celebrity chefs. But to aspiring photographers, 13 high school students probably enrolled in the best camp of all: Photo Camp at the National Geographic Society.

The death of a British marine biologist after she was attacked by a leopard seal in the Antarctic has focused attention on the little-known predator. Scientists fear increased human activity in the southernmost continent could lead to further fatal encounters.

For years, scientists have been stumped as to how water striders, an insect commonly found on freshwater ponds, rivers, and lakes, "walk" on water. A team of researchers from MIT believed the insects rowed by novel means, and to prove their theory, they built an aluminum robot.

Olly & Suzi, as they are known professionally, are London-based artist-explorers who have portrayed wild dogs, lions, killer whales, polar bears, Arctic foxes, tarantulas, and grizzlies. The artists also encourage the wild creatures to interact with their canvases. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

A heart condition more usually known for striking down young human athletes may be behind a recent increase in numbers of stranded dwarf and pygmy sperm whales in the Southeast United States. Researchers are investigating the causes behind the mysterious condition, including the possibility that it could be linked to the deteriorating ocean environment.

According to the "small world" theory, you should be just six handshakes or e-mail messages away from Madonna, Tiger Woods, or Nelson Mandela. But can anyone in the world really reach anyone else through a chain of just six friends? Yes, say researchers at Columbia University. 

Decades of counting India's wild tiger population by studying pug (paw) marks in the earth have come to nil. Indian and U.S. researchers have concluded that the technique is misleading. The data collected in this way has led to wrong estimates of the size of the population of the country's wild tigers and, as a result, to "poor conservation practices," the experts say.

Researchers have uncovered the oldest direct evidence of spiderwebs. A tiny fragment of thread was found embedded in amber formed during the time of the dinosaurs. The fossil was unearthed in 1969 but left unexamined in a German museum, until a Swiss spider biologist rediscovered the prize specimen.

Using hidden automatic cameras, researchers have completed one of the first detailed ecological studies of Southeast Asian tigers. Thousands of images of individual animals have given researchers hope that in at least one reserve the big cats remain viable.

Twenty-five years ago, it would have been impossible to find a woman smokejumper in the United States. Today, 27 serve in the elite corps that drops by parachute into the nation's backcountry to fight wildfires.

Charming Port Townsend, Washington, beat decay and sprawl. Will it now drown in tourist dollars?

Along a shoreline in northwest Africa, scientists made a gruesome discovery: the carcasses of 230 dolphins, a pilot whale, and 15 endangered sea turtles. These animals were probably killed as "bycatch"—unwanted creatures accidentally hauled aboard fishing vessels. Bycatch totals at least 30 million tons of sea life each year.

Scientists ruled out green cheese several centuries ago. But while the composition of the moon hasn't been in doubt since the first lunar landings, the prime source of that material has. A new study suggests an answer based on analysis of Earth, moon, Mars, and meteorite rock samples.

As aid workers return to war-weary Liberia they are finding a country in complete ruins. The needs are overwhelming. One million Liberians have been displaced. Malnutrition is soaring. Perhaps worst of all, a cholera epidemic is lurking around the corner.

Nuclear weapons, Agent Orange, and mustard gas have helped to safeguard one thriving Pacific coral reef ecosystem. But what effect have they had on the area's marine environment? Sharks are helping researchers to find out.

In 1963, a dam plugged the flow of the Colorado River through Glen Canyon, giving rise to Lake Powell. But a severe, five-year drought in the Western United States has starved the reservoir, providing a tantalizing peek at the lost canyon.

A large shark seen feeding yards from the English coast could mark the first recorded sighting of a great white in U.K. waters, marine biologists say. Spotted by a teenager on vacation, experts say the detailed description closely matches that of the super-predator.

A new species of dinosaur was announced by Indian and American scientists today: a 30-foot (9-meter), horned carnivore that hunted other dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The research was supported in part by the National Geographic Society. Includes a gallery of Rajasaurus images, charts, and maps.

Sky watchers are readying their telescopes for a close look at Mars. On August 27, the red planet will be the closest it's been to Earth in 60,000 years. Mark your calendar, because the next time Mars gets as close won't be until the year 2287.

For much of his career, photographer David Alan Harvey has trained his lens on the Hispanic world. Now the long-time National Geographic staff photographer has published a new book, Divided Soul. National Geographic News recently spoke with Harvey about it, and his abiding passion for Latin America. Includes a gallery of David Alan Harvey's photography.

A recent discovery that the so-called "fixed" hot spot of molten magma, which created the Hawaiian Islands, actually drifted southward between 81 and 47 million years ago and is causing geologists to revise their descriptions of the interior workings of the Earth.

Cowboys make a Hollywood comeback in Kevin Costner's new movie, opening today. Open Range focuses on the struggle between free-grazers and landowners, spotlighting the West's original cowboys, the tough vaquero. Includes a gallery of images from photographer Kendall Nelson's recent book, Gathering Remnants, a study of the last surviving cowboys.

Every year there are a half billion visits to America's national parks and forests. Tourists provide 78 percent of the national forest's contribution to the economy. That's why the government's Healthy Forests Initiative is being considered, although environmentalists decry it as bad policy for the National Forests.

Humans and gorillas share much of the same genetic makeup—but that doesn't mean they always get along. Researchers in the dense forests of central Africa are working to bring the two together for ecotourism. Ensuring that the animals are worth more alive than dead may be their only shot at survival. This story airs on Ultimate Explorer, in the U.S. Sunday, 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC.

Cambodian rangers march through Bokor National Park, machine guns slung over their shoulders—they are fighting a war against illegal loggers and poachers. Nearby, a special police squad uses undercover agents to catch traders in illegal wildlife. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Paleontologists are familiar with mostly gray and brown fossils, the color determined by the rock they are embedded in. Now scientists have found and described a spectacular beetle fossil that still retains bright blue metallic wing cases after 50 million years.

Scientists at the University of California in San Diego are studying ocean mixing at the Hawaiian Ridge, a 1,600-mile (2,600-kilometer) long chain of largely submerged volcanic mountains. Their findings may shed light on global climate and oceanic temperature variations.

Each fall, more than 80,000 paddlers descend upon a 28-mile-stretch (48 kilometers) of West Virginia's Gauley River to raft and kayak a river at times sublime and extreme. For insights into this white-water mecca, National Geographic Adventure spoke with veteran guide Blaine Honea. His advice? Bring a wetsuit—and some jokes.

New research provides the first experimental evidence that hermaphrodite animals, like plants, focus resources on their male side during times of stress. Challenging environmental conditions have also been shown to affect the ratio of male to female offspring in non-hermaphroditic animals.

The world's oceans are in crisis. Pollution, overfishing, invasive species, habitat destruction are daily threats. Attention to marine conservation science lags far behind that paid to conservation of firm ground, says a scientist.

South African aviators reflect with sadness on hearing about the recent death of Mpho, the cheetah. For nearly a decade, the fleet-footed predator had helped spare them calamity by keeping warthogs and other small game off the runways in one of the wilder parts of South Africa.

Sharks have survived some 400 million years on Earth. Could their longevity be due in part to an extraordinary resistance to cancer and other diseases? If so, humans might someday benefit from shark secrets—but leading researchers caution that today's popular shark cartilage "cancer cures" aren't part of the solution.

Underwater explorers may have hit the mother lode with the discovery of the Civil-War era S.S. Republic. The steamship was wrecked in 1865 with a cargo of gold coins that may be worth as much as 180 million dollars. But that may not be all that's valuable about the wreck.

A burgeoning population of stray and feral dogs is becoming an issue of public health and safety in many American neighborhoods. The boom is attributed in part to the illegal "sport" of dog fighting as well as reduced expenditure on animal control by cash-strapped local authorities.

Thirty years ago, because of hunting and habitat loss, the crocodile population in Florida had dwindled to less than 400. Now the number is up to 1,000—enough to consider downlisting the crocodile's status to "threatened." This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

In a few months Antarctic summer will begin. Tours to the southern continent have doubled and redoubled in less than a decade. Is this jump in tourism hurting Antarctica, or helping it?

Over 130 different snake species call Costa Rica home—including some of the world's deadliest. Join Ultimate Explorer's Rom Whitaker on a search for bushmasters, coral snakes, and the deadly fer-de-lance. His adventures air Sunday, August 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC.

An elephant never forgets—or does it? Scientists have long believed that animals do not have so-called episodic memory—the kind that allows humans to remember past events. But recent experiments with scrub jays, chimpanzees, and gorillas have led to rethinking of the nature of memory in animals.

A lack of calcium isn't good for the bones, especially when you've got antlers to grow. So to compensate for their mineral-deficient diet, over the next few weeks deer living on a remote Scottish island will be filling up on live seabird chicks.

A mysterious, 41-foot by 19-foot (12.4-meter by 5.4-meter) gelatinous mass of flesh that washed ashore in southern Chile this June came from a sperm whale, not a giant octopus, as some researchers suspected.

Stargazers in a frenzy by the spectacle of Mars' closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years Wednesday may be compelled to snap a photo of the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. They'll need some patience and a little luck, but it can be done. This story includes the latest image of Mars made by the Hubble telescope.

In 1958 Eugene Parker discovered that a stiff wind blows incessantly from the sun, filling local interstellar space with ionized gas. The discovery forever changed how scientists perceive space and helped explain many phenomena, from geomagnetic storms that knock out power grids on Earth to the formation of distant stars.

A flood of interstellar dust is breaching the sun's weakened magnetic shield and drifting into the solar system, according to European astronomers. The tide of dust may chip away at spacecraft solar panels and knock particles off asteroids, increasing the number of shooting stars observed on Earth.

At Walt Disney World Resort in Florida there is much that is bigger and better than almost anywhere else, including the landscape "show" of more than seven million trees, shrubs, and flowers that form part of the popular travel destination's entertainment.

Some smell like putrefied meat, others have stalks reminiscent of male anatomy, and others are outrageously big, or black, or carnivorous, or explosive. The world is full of weird plants and more and more people are encouraging them to take root in their gardens.

For 41 days, filmmaker Lance Milbrand lived on Clipperton Island, a Pacific atoll 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) from landfall, sharing the desert isle with thousands of seabirds, land crabs, rats, and an army of lost toys. This story airs on Ultimate Explorer in the U.S. Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC.

Forty years ago today, civil rights leader and Nobel laureate Martin Luther King gave a 16-minute address that is widely considered the greatest American speech of the 20th century.

"Normal brains" are in demand at the Harvard Brain Bank—the largest bank of its kind worldwide. Here fresh brains are received, analyzed, and farmed out to researchers investigating devastating diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and schizophrenia. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

In New Zealand, sheep outnumber people 12 to 1. National Geographic Today producer Simone Swink describes her visit to Arthur's Pass (human population: 49), during the South Island town's biannual sheep muster. This story airs tonight on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today.

Natural history filmmaker Lance Milbrand received a grant from the National Geographic Expeditions Council to spend six weeks alone on Clipperton, a remote deserted atoll 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) off Mexico. With only crabs, rats, and seabirds for company—and occasional passing fishing boats—he kept this journal of life as a 21st-century castaway.

The trekking boom has laid bare the great mountain's base. The main problem? Firewood. National Geographic Traveler's TravelWatch explores possible solutions. Plus: Nine green hotels in Negril. logo