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June 2004 Archive

Australian researchers are delving into the medicinal properties of snake venom. One team has found a novel component that may be used to block the blood supply to tumors. (A related story airs Tuesday, June 1, on our U.S. cable television program Snakebite.)

In the wilds of an African island lurks a predator with the build of a puma, retractable claws, and the snout of a dog. Yet it can scale trees with the ease of a squirrel and is a close relative of the mongoose. Scientists in Madagascar are revealing the secret life of one of the world's most unusual and little-known animals.

The familiar figure of Nelson Mandela, with his trademark floral shirt and ready smile, will be fading from the international limelight. The global icon and father of South Africa's democracy has announced his intention to retreat from public life.

The fossil skull of a new species of dinosaur—a wrinkle-faced carnivore called Rugops primus that lived 95 million years ago—has been found in a remote part of the Sahara.

With as many as four big cat sightings reported each day in the U.K., debate is growing over whether leopards, pumas, and other exotic felines are now living wild in the British countryside.

In the past five years, the United States has imported more than 144,000 Burmese pythons. Some of those snakes are now wrestling alligators in the Florida Everglades—and breeding. The case spotlights the problem that thousands of invasive species—from African clawed frogs to Asian beetles—now pose as they wreak environmental havoc in the U.S.

Natural history collections in museums and universities across the U.S. and Britain are under threat, often rotting or shut down altogether. They are being starved of funding and qualified staff, scientists say. As a result, they say, we risk losing an invaluable research tool in our quest to understand and conserve the diversity of life.

Since the beginnings of exploration in Madagascar Ibity Massif has been a botanist's paradise because of its many unique species. When fire engulfed the mountain last October National Geographic funded a study of the inferno's impact—and how widespread burning has contributed to the destruction of the African island's vegetation.

Lemurs have long been regarded as the "dunces" of the primate world. But now, Aristides, a fluffy ring-tailed lemur with enquiring brown eyes, may be about to turn that idea on its head. His ability to memorize lists of images, and complete other tasks, is providing clues about the evolution of intelligence in man's earliest primate ancestors.

The Titanic has significantly deteriorated since its discovery in 1986, explorer Robert D. Ballard announced yesterday during a telephone press conference from a research ship above the wreck in the North Atlantic. Ballard found the Titanic in 1986. He is currently leading an expedition to assess how it has changed since then and to ensure its future protection.

For millennia, it seems, almost nothing has been safe from these summer tempests—not World War II warships, not treasure-filled galleons, perhaps not even dinosaurs.

Fish, whales, dolphins, crabs, seabirds, and just about everything else that makes a living in or off of the oceans owe their existence to phytoplankton, one-celled plants that live at the ocean surface. Scientists seek to learn more about these one-celled wonders, which even influence global climate.

The ill-fated luxury liner Titanic never made it to New York. But on Thursday the largest-ever selection of the ship's artifacts and memorabilia will go on the auction block at the city's South Street Seaport Museum, just steps from the Titanic memorial.

Birding columnist Mathew Tekulsky ponders the California thrasher, a secretive bird that combs the forest floor for grubs, seeds, and insects. Rarely seen in the open, the California thrasher is unlikely to fly any great distances—but it does cover substantial ground on foot.

Even as NASA struggles to save the Hubble Space Telescope, it's got something even more impressive already under construction. The next great space telescope is to launch in 2011, and it promises to see vastly farther than the Hubble can—perhaps even to the beginning of the universe.

The U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts are in for another pounding this hurricane season, forecasters say. And recent history suggests we're at the start of hurricane boom that won't let up for years, possibly even decades.

National Geographic Traveler and Conservation International announced the winners of the 2004 World Legacy Awards in sustainable tourism. Winners include a Dubai desert resort that has restored local native plant and animal species, including endangered oryx, and an Aboriginal operated tour company in the Australian outback.

One-celled ocean plants known as phytoplankton produce half the world's oxygen. They also trap large amounts of carbon dioxide. Some scientists believe that enriching the world's oceans with iron would encourage phytoplankton blooms and help regulate global warming.

Wherever people go, rats go too. Researchers are using this fact to help understand human migration patterns. A new genetic comparison of rats from various Pacific islands presents clues to the origins of Polynesian people.

Along the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, killer crocs prey on villagers who venture along the water's edge. In an interview with National Geographic News, crocodile expert Brady Barr describes his battle to relocate these man-eaters and his hope that humans and crocs can coexist.

The Royal Geographical Society in London opened its archive of two million maps, photographs, and other unique artifacts—many collected during the peak of the British Empire—this week. The unveiling marks the first time the public has had access to the extensive collection in 174 years.

He's bushwhacked 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) through the some of the last untouched forests of Africa and inspired the creation of at least 13 national parks. Now biologist and explorer Michael Fay has embarked on another ambitious expedition: a yearlong aerial survey of Africa's wildest places. Here he explains how he'll do it—and why it matters.

After a seven-year, roundabout planetary voyage, the international Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is poised to begin a four-year tour of Saturn, its rings, and 31 known moons, including Earthlike Titan.

A new and terrifying disease struck England in October of 1831 and quickly spread across the kingdom. Over the next two years, thousands died a gruesome death from this mysterious illness, so virulent that a person could be in good health at dawn and be buried at dusk. There was no cure. A related story airs on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Channel Presents I: Sewers of London.

An estimated three-quarters of all marine life is maintained by a single ocean-circulation pattern in the Southern Hemisphere that pulls nutrient-rich waters from the deep ocean, brings them to the surface, and distributes them around the world.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has recently designated one-third of the park as a no-take zone, making it the largest fully protected stretch of ocean in the world. A related story airs Tuesday, June 15, on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Channel Presents Nature's Nightmares: Coral Reefs.

Once called "dollface" and "sweetheart" by her male colleagues, Stacey Loizeaux has risen through the ranks to become one of the United States' most qualified demolition experts, a profession still dominated by men. Now she's respected for her ability to bring down colossal structures precisely and safely—continuing a family tradition started by her grandfather. A related story airs Wednesday, June 16, on our U.S. cable television program Dangerous Jobs.

I Am David is a new movie depicting a Bulgarian boy's struggle as a refugee in post-World War II Europe. The film is being used by the UN to highlight the plight of current-day refugees.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and movie actress Angelina Jolie today presented the fourth annual World Refugee Day poster awards at the National Geographic Society's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Wild Atlantic salmon are in trouble, but they have some valuable friends in the New England schoolchildren who take part in the U.S. government's Adopt-a-Salmon Family program. By raising and releasing young salmon, students hope to promote the fish's recovery, while learning firsthand the importance of clean and healthy watersheds.

Cheetahs once roamed over much of Africa and Asia. But as its habitat was lost the fastest land mammal has become endangered. Now efforts are underway in South Africa to save the last of the wild cheetahs through both public relations and a stud book to ensure breeding success.

Single-celled plants called diatoms dominate the surface layer of the ocean around Antarctica. Their unique glass-hoarding behavior has allowed scientists to map the delivery of ocean nutrients around the world.

With some 200 U.S. localities now banning "dangerous" dog breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, dog owners and animal organizations are using the U.S. Constitution to try to retrieve the right to keep such canines. Some experts say aggression in dogs is not necessarily breed-specific—owners may share the blame.

A fire ant species originally from Brazil does at least a billion dollars in damage yearly in Texas alone. Now scientists plan to fight fire with fire, importing alien flies to beat back the alien ants.

They may not be getting new ties this Sunday, but a crew of animal fathers put in serious time—and sometimes unusual methods—in their bid for parenthood. From the hardhead catfish, which goes on a multi-week starvation diet while holding its young in its mouth, to the South American marmoset, which cares for its babies from birth, these fathers are hands- (and fins-) on parents, a quality which helps their species' survival.

The U.S. announced today that it had joined the United Kingdom to become the second government to give legal protection to the wreck of the Titanic. If the treaty is approved by Congress, American citizens or U.S.-registered vessels will need permits to be involved in diving expeditions to the remains of the legendary ship.

On the island of Borneo, an adolescent boy embarked on a solo hunting adventure, his first. When he returned home with a wild boar draped across his shoulders, he had earned the right to be ritually tattooed among his tribe. A related TV story airs June 21 on the National Geographic Channel's Tattoo.

Reenactors of the Lewis and Clark expedition are finding that some things haven't changed in 200 years. For one thing, on June 16, 1804, William Clark noted in his journal that the ticks and mosquitoes where they camped that night "are numerous and bad." His words still ring—and sting—true.

The massive mute swan is creating ripples on both sides of "the pond." In both the U.S. and Europe, groups want to control booming swan populations to prevent them from overwhelming other species. Others say the bird is being made a scapegoat for environmental damage caused by humans.

Shrimp farming in Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and other poor Asian nations has devastated native mangrove forests and wild fish stocks, according to an environmental nonprofit.

The western bluebird scoots around in small flocks from one area of the meadow to the other. If you hang out next to its favorite perches, you can generally get a good photo of a bluebird after it returns from its hunting trip, writes birding columnist Mathew Tekulsky.

Ninety percent of the world's oceans remain unexplored. But with new technology we are at last able to probe Earth's last great frontier—and learn about the animals that have adapted to near-freezing temperatures, crushing pressures, lack of light, and sparse food.

As the world's fish stocks plummet, whales are increasingly being targeted as "pests" because they are competing with humans for what's left. Conservationists fear that the perception could lead to resumed hunting of whales—which would not reverse the decline of fisheries.

A small, nocturnal lemur which stores fat in its tail is revealed as the first known tropical mammal to spend long periods in hibernation, claims a new study. Furthermore, the German research team say their findings provide the first proof of hibernation in any primate.

With Spider-Man, the world's most famous web-slinger, returning to the big screen today, real-life spiders everywhere may be readying their webs for a bit more attention. But how do our red-and-blue hero's capabilities compare with the superpowers of real spiders?

Triceratops horns, T. rex teeth, dinosaur eggs, and a woolly mammoth skeleton are among 300 lots of dinosaur and other fossils slated for auction today in New York. While the sale will make some collectors happy, the event has stirred debate about private ownership and trade in scientifically-important fossils.

Lightning is a killer. It claims more victims each year than do snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes. It keeps a low profile as the second largest weather-related killer, usually striking one person at a time. Only floods, which can wipe out towns, kill more people.

Time is running out to tackle an impending "explosive" AIDS epidemic in the Asia Pacific region according to a new report from the World Health Organization and other bodies.

The deep ocean floor is a dark, cold, remote, and seemingly lifeless place that until recently lay largely below the radar of science and exploration. But with advances in technology, scientists are accessing the deep and finding life everywhere they look.

Marine ecologists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are combing the eastern Pacific for clues to why the dolphin population there is not growing, despite more than a decade of conservation efforts.

A new species of spider is discovered with a knack for creating well-measured webs. There were just four instances of spiders evolving the ability to measure and create symmetrical webs: A fifth was discovered in Peru last month, prompting questions as to how and why some spiders develop the skill.

Purple carrots, low-carb potatoes, orange cauliflower, broccolini: So-called designer vegetables have been making headlines of late.

As golf courses and golf resorts proliferate around the world, their growth provokes environmental questions about land use, habitat destruction, stunning water consumption, and runoff pollution from pesticides and fertilizers. Is it possible to have greener golf? Conservationist and golfer Mark Wexler reports.

One of only a handful of filmmakers who dive under the Arctic sea ice, Adam Ravetch spent two years tracking elusive bowhead whales to produce a documentary on the mysterious Arctic mammals.

The bald eagle and grizzly bear are U.S. icons. Yet both were hunted and poisoned almost to extinction. Thanks to federal protection—and a change in people's attitudes—they have recovered to such an extent in some areas that there is a growing debate about their status as endangered or threatened species.

Annual car sales in China leapt nearly 80 percent last year, making the country the world's fastest growing auto market. As Chinese consumers have embraced the comfort, convenience, and status of car ownership, road accidents, traffic, and pollution have also grown.

The Masai of Kenya and Tanzania are struggling with poor education, inadequate health services, shrinking land, and a lack of water. During a rare U.S. visit, 15 Masai tribespeople learned that many indigenous groups face similar challenges.

The floors are a living tangle of undulating fur. Thousands of rats dine with people and scamper over their feet. It may sound like a nightmare from the New York City subway to some, but in a small Indian city, this is a place of worship. (A related story airs Wednesday, June 30, on our U.S. cable television series Taboo.)

A photo of a U.S. soldier in Iraq holding massive, hairy, supposedly flesh-eating spiders has been burning up e-mail in-boxes around the world. The arachnids (called camel spiders or wind scorpions) are real, but scientists say many claims about them are anything but.

July 4 is enshrined as the quintessential U.S. holiday—forever celebrating the day that the U.S. broke away from England. Historians point out that the Continental Congress actually approved the Declaration of Independence on July 2, however. July 4 did not become a paid federal holiday until 1941.

Microscopic organisms that get their energy by inhaling metals in the ground play a key role in the arsenic poisoning of drinking water for millions of people in Bangladesh and West Bengal, according to a new study.

A hundred-million-year-old Brazilian fossil may offer rare evidence of an ancient encounter between a spinosaur and a pterosaur. logo