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September 2003 Archive

Between 500 billion and a trillion plastic grocery bags are consumed worldwide each year, according to some estimates. Cheap, sturdy, lightweight, and easy-to-carry, the bags use a fraction of the resources to produce as their paper counterparts. But the disposable bags also litter oceans and landscapes, harming wildlife.

A study of skulls excavated from the tip of Baja California in Mexico suggests that the first Americans may not have been the ancestors of today's Amerindians, but another people who came from Southeast Asia and the southern Pacific area.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee achieved his greatest Civil War victory at Chancellorsville 140 years ago. Today, another skirmish over the historic Virginia battlefield pits land developers against preservationists.

The Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) may creep for miles through dense, debris-strewn forest for the chance to pounce on a scarce snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), but the stealthy feline is apparently seldom bothered to weather a crossing of the Rocky Mountains to find a mate.

While the United States government still urges tourists to avoid Iraq, it recently lifted a travel ban imposed 12 years ago. Some tour operators are already planning trips to the war-torn nation, betting that Iraq will be the place to travel once the country stabilizes.

According to legend, Borneo's elephants were introduced as a gift to a local sultan 250 years ago. But new genetic evidence shows that elephants found on the island come from a long-standing, indigenous population. The finding adds urgency to conservation efforts for the endangered animal.

A feeling of remoteness lends charm to the California ski town of Mammoth Lakes. But the town government and corporate investors want to spend nearly one billion dollars (U.S.) to turn the place into an international resort destination to rival Aspen, Vail, and Whistler.

The jigsaw pieces are beginning to fall into place in southern Africa for what could eventually be one of the world's greatest coastal parks—a 70,000-square-mile (180,000-square-kilometer) strip that would span three countries, including the entire coastline of Namibia, and provide protected status for a unique desert ecosystem.

Attacks on park rangers are increasing around the world. The dangers they face from poachers, smugglers, trespassers, and guerilla fighters are becoming so acute that their safety is to come up for special discussion at the 5th World Parks Congress in South Africa next week.

The 5th World Parks Congress meeting in South Africa next week will focus on "Benefits Beyond Boundaries"—reflecting the 21st-century need to balance conservation of dwindling wilderness sanctuaries with the needs of struggling human societies.

In Alaska, the locals call it devil's club—a spiky plant mostly known for spoiling hikes and crowding out blueberry patches. So why are ecologists growing more of the stuff? Devil's club may find a use as a treatment for tuberculosis adapted from Native American folk medicine.

Chile's Lauca National Park—a birder's paradise—is home to more than 100 bird species and 30 species of mammals including wild llamas, vicuna, Andean and pampas cats and the now-endangered puma. But the park faces immediate danger as locals work to reopen the copper and gold mines with its boundaries.

Since the mid-19th century, scientists have been vexed to explain a simple question about bee reproduction: Why do unfertilized bee eggs become male, while fertilized eggs produce female worker or queen offspring? The answer, according to new research, is a unique genetic system.

A fish that looks like a herring but behaves like a salmon is disappearing from British waters. That's the finding of a two-year investigation into two species of shad found around Britain. Scientists say these migratory fish, which mature at sea and reproduce in rivers, are being starved of breeding opportunities because of man-made barriers placed in their path.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars present a paradox: While the zero emission vehicles don't pollute, most plans to mass-produce clean-burning hydrogen rely on dirty fuels like coal and gas. The recent blackout in the Northeast U.S. and Canada, however, may kick-start other uses of hydrogen fuel cells.

Tonight's full moon, also known as the harvest moon, will flood the twilight sky with natural light just after sunset, providing folks a few extra hours to complete outside shores. Artificial lighting long ago reduced the importance of the moon to farmers and gardeners, but the name has stuck.

Four hundred sixty volunteers in eight states have stitched a 10-foot by 60-foot (3-meter by 18-meter) quilt to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Female moa birds had a sweet spot for the little guys, according to two papers appearing in the September 11 issue of Nature.

Researchers using sophisticated radio-dating techniques have concluded that a tunnel running under ancient Jerusalem was indeed constructed around 700 B.C., during the reign of King Hezekiah, just as it is described in the Bible.

"Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past" opened to the U.S. public last month at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. This remarkable collection of 128 artifacts ranging in date from about 1500 B.C. to the fourth century A.D. is the first major exhibition to explore childhood in ancient Greece.

The world's parks and protected areas are underfunded and, as a result, lack the basic maintenance and infrastructure required to keep wildlife free from poachers and forests clear of illegal logging, according to a study presented today at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa.

Over the next decade, the Mexican government proposes to complete a chain of 27 marina-resorts encircling Baja California. The project spans thousands of miles of rugged coast, assorted national parks, five biosphere reserves, and the entire Sea of Cortés. The plan would bring tourists and jobs, but at what cost?

Four of five animals on Earth are worms. And in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica—so bleak they are used to simulate Mars—worms are the most sophisticated life forms around. But new experiments suggest these hardy worms may be harbingers of climate change effects throughout the world.

Knee deep in trash, Phnom Penh's poorest families struggle to build a life from what others throw away. They are scavengers—some as young as eight-years-old—living amid mountains of garbage in Stung Meanchey, the largest trash dump in Cambodia. Today, a nearby school offers these children a way out.

When Ulf Tubbesing makes a house call, the patient isn't always cooperative and the location is almost never inside a house. The veterinarian responds to wild animals in trouble, often because of contact with humans.

Hurricane Isabel is making its way westward across the Atlantic toward the East Coast. Few hurricanes of this magnitude have made landfall in the U.S. since records have been kept. The storm that set the standard for sheer power smashed into the Florida Keys on Labor Day Monday of 1935, killing hundreds of World War I veterans working on a Depression-era New Deal highway construction project.

A "living fossil" found only in Europe's oldest lake is facing extinction because of pollution and overfishing, scientists warn. If the Ohrid trout is to be saved, they say urgent conservation action is needed in Albania and Macedonia.

Fritz Mueller knows the dedication and patience necessary for award-winning photography. After hauling heavy camera gear into backcountry, he waited out six days of rain, snow, and fog before getting the picture that won this year's Mountain Photography Competition in Canada.

It has tens of millions of fans around the world, more than 30,000 Web sites, and its artists are household names in Japan. Yet most Americans have never heard of anime, the elastic definition used to describe all Japanese animated movies.

As many as 15,000 primates may be living as pets in homes across the United States. But where people see their simian relatives as cute, cuddly, and human-look-alike surrogate children, the animals may not be up for that kind of relationship—and they have the teeth to prove it.

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton knows how to meet challenges. A boy doesn't survive on the plains of Africa without learning those skills quickly. In his first book, Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, Lekuton writes about his boyhood with a special audience in mind: his American students.

If you expect equal pay for equal work, blame evolution. Researchers have found that the highly social and cooperative brown capuchin monkey shows a sense of fairness, the first observation of such behavior in a species other than humans. This suggests that knowing what's fair and what's not is a product of evolution.

When lightning stranded a dozen climbers on Wyoming's Grand Teton, only a bold airborne rescue could save them. Rangers rescued 13 people in three hours, proving just how good the search and rescue safety net can get when a highly competent, well-supported staff stands by waiting to save lives.

Male bowerbirds famously woo females by fashioning elaborate bowers—not nests but U-shaped showplaces with parallel walls of twigs. There the males prance and noisily serenade the females. New research, however, reveals that males that accurately mimic the calls of other bird species were most successful at winning mates.

The fossil remains of a giant rodent that weighed an estimated 1,500 pounds (700 kilograms)—as large as a modern buffalo—is helping scientists form a clearer image of what northern South America was like some eight million years ago.

Male bowerbirds famously woo females by fashioning elaborate bowers—not nests but U-shaped showplaces with parallel walls of twigs. There the males prance and noisily serenade the females. New research, however, reveals that males that accurately mimic the calls of other bird species were most successful at winning mates.

Last May, a small fishing boat plied the waters of Mossel Bay, South Africa, in pursuit of great white sharks. Scientists hooked a seven-footer, fought it until it calmed, then towed it towards the 100-foot research vessel that waited nearby. Then, they hoisted it on deck with a hydraulic lift.

One hundred miles (160 kilometers) off the Californian coast, and a mile (1,600 meters) below the surface, researchers have discovered a totally new kind of nesting site. In the dark and rocky fissures of a submarine plateau, hundreds of odd-looking fish and octopus gather to care for their eggs.

The heat is on tropical glaciers, and perhaps nowhere is the phenomenon more evident than on Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro. Experts say climate change and deforestation are to blame.

A study of bones of ancient Britons has found that there was a sudden change in their diet about 5,000 years ago. Apparently they stopped eating seafood in substantial quantities. Did this, scientists wonder, coincide with the dawn of livestock farming? The beginning of the British passion for roast beef?

In the Kharga Oasis, 175 miles (280 kilometers) west of Luxor, a spectacular series of well-preserved Roman forts, possibly built on top of pharaonic ruins, speckle Egypt's Western Desert. But looters are preying on Kharga, destroying ruins, burial sites and dismembering Roman mummies. Now archaeologists are racing to preserve these sites.

Eleven turtles equipped with satellite transmitters are on a voyage of scientific discovery. This is despite four of them swimming straight into Hurricane Isabel after setting off from North Carolina in the U.S. Having survived the ordeal, researchers say these long-distance travelers are providing crucial data about their mysterious lives at sea.

Mount Rainier provides a scenic backdrop to much of western Washington State, and more people have moved into its associated valleys. But the mountain's serene, snow-covered summit belies an ominous fact: Rainier's status as an active volcano.

Scientists have completed a rough sketch of the canine genome. The results may explain why dogs are humans' best friend: Their genes are similar. Researchers say the cheaper technique used to map the dog genome will make more mammal DNA studies affordable.

Far from being a pristine wilderness prior to Columbus's arrival in the New World, parts of the Brazilian Amazon more closely resembled a pre-historic version of urban sprawl, archaeologists have discovered. Interconnected villages were built according to a very large-scale plan, suggesting knowledge of mathematics, architecture, astronomy, and engineering.

Silver mining in the Bolivian Andes was a well-established industry hundreds of years earlier than commonly thought, according to a geological study published today. But what happened to thousands of tons of silver extracted from the Earth a thousand years ago remains a mystery.

Ninety percent of the world's 45 million blind people are in developing nations. Many cases may be preventable or treatable, particularly as nearly half are caused by cataract, a condition routinely treated in affluent countries. Doctors in Nepal are showing how vision can be restored to even the poorest people.

This story also aired on National Geographic Ultimate Explorer in the U.S. on MSNBC, Sunday, September 28.

When a study revealed how badly wildlife and wilderness were faring in Banff National Park, Canada's Rocky Mountain jewel, business and government leaders met to search their civic souls: How to save the park without dying economically? Their solution, says TravelWatch columnist Jonathan Tourtellot, could save the Great Smokies.

A big American crocodile repeatedly lumbered into a village near Costa Rica's Tarcoles River and devoured some local dogs—not an unlikely occurrence in this region. This is just one of several "problem crocs" returning home after relocation. Researchers are testing a new GPS-cell-phone system to track the animals.

For four decades, Mark Angelo—river conservationist, paddler, teacher, and writer—has traveled along hundreds of waterways on six continents. Well known to Canadians as a passionate and articulate advocate for rivers, he has put together Riverworld, a special presentation that helps draw attention to 2003 as the international year of fresh water.

Are you burned out at work? Low on energy? Counting the days until retirement? Before you throw in the towel, cash in the stock options, and buy that condo in the sun, consider the words of 102-year-old Russell Clark: "Continuing to work keeps the mind sharp and the body healthy, which aids in maintaining a positive attitude."

Illegal loggers in Borneo are moving farther into the interior of the forests, reaching a 20-year study site in Gunung Palung National Park, home to 2,500 orangutans. Orangutans are critically endangered and could go extinct in 10 to 20 years if the habitat destruction isn't halted quickly.

This month, the National Geographic Society will publish Through the Lens: National Geographic Greatest Photographs, a collection of 250 images that span over 100 years of Geographic photography. The book includes many of the Society's most celebrated photographers, including Sam Abell, William Albert Allard, Annie Griffiths Belt, Jodi Cobb, David Doubilet, Chris Johns and more. Many of the photos have been published previously, while others are available to the public for the first time. logo