In 2008, National Geographic funded Christopher Golden‘s research on bushmeat consumption and trade in Madagascar. His interest in the Malagasy’s reliance on natural resources and their health started with a visit to Madagascar in 1999 with explorer Luke Dollar. Golden’s continued success can be attributed to his expertise in multiple fields (ecology and epidemiology) his fluency in Malagasy, his eloquence, and his sense of humor. We commend him for his courage not only to address this difficult topic for the conservation community, but also to be the first explorer to submit to us not just one but TWO drawings of himself in the field.
What do you think National Geographic explorers will be exploring in 100 years?
I think that within 100 years, National Geographic explorers will be reinventing what exploration means. As we find our world becoming increasingly smaller, I think that we will have to search within the most common (and yet overlooked) places to find new discoveries. I hope that many new explorers will make discoveries in the area of agricultural efficiency as this to me is one of the greatest problems currently.
If you could trade places with one explorer at National Geographic, who would it be and why?
I’m going to change this question to whose work is most inspiring to me, because as currently stated, I would probably choose the explorer who works in Cuba or southeast Asia to have some nice downtime. I think the work of Emerging Explorer Iain Couzin is really wonderful. This type of innovative thinking, grounded in the basic knowledge that our world has evolved for a reason, is exactly the type of research applications we all need to be making in our work. Would love to meet him or hear him speak so keep me posted if he comes to present sometime.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve discovered in your work or in the field?
I think the biggest surprise I’ve discovered so far in my work is to trace the extent and significance of hunting in Madagascar. Prior to my work, there was almost no evidence of large-scale hunting in the country. Recently, we just did the redlist assessments for lemurs for the IUCN and found that more than 90% of species were vulnerable to extinction. I think that information on hunting and its scale is a large reason why increased attention is being brought to these species. My second discovery is an unfortunate one- that hunting is necessary for human nutrition in the area. This brings conservation and human health into conflict, but I am very hopeful that co-beneficial solutions will be developed to ease this conflict.
Have you ever been lost? How did you get found?
I never get lost in the forest and always get lost in the city. You can ask any of my friends from Boston or San Francisco and they will tell you that no matter how many years I live in a city I will never get to know it well enough to give directions. On the other hand, drop me in the middle of the Makira forest, and I will find my way out.
Sketch of Golden in the field, observing bat hunting, by Golden
What is your favorite food?
BBQ, but my favorite cuisine is Thai or Korean food I love spicy food. Bring me some penang curry from a Thai restaurant or some youkhwue (raw beef with pears and a raw egg yolk) from a Korean restaurant and I’ll be happy.
What are you reading right now?
A Cupboard Full of Coats, by Yvvette Edwards. I really like it a lot. Every year, I read the winner of the Man Booker Prize for literature and have found many of my favorite books by doing this. I just finished In a Strange Room, by Damon Galgut and A Sense of an Ending, by Julius Barnes. Both of these were excellent but very depressing. You can always count on these books to be exceptionally well-written, but can’t always guarantee that they will be uplifting!
What are you listening to right now?
The Noisettes, 2Face Idibia, The Zombies. I really love a wide range of music. The lead singer of the Noisettes (Shingai Shoniwa) has a voice that is really incredible and her lyrics are great. 2Face is really fun Nigerian rap/pop music- always gets me in a great mood. The Zombies are such a classic band. I have a deep love for music from the 60s, largely because I can remember my mom playing them on our jukebox when we were young or jamming out in the car. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit her voice.
What one item do you always have with you?
My passport, and my iPhone (for music not talking!)
Sketch of Golden by artist Stewart Johnson
If you were to meet your 8-year-old self, what would you say?
I think I would tell myself to stop bothering trying to fit in. I grew up in a very small town where boys were supposed to be playing soccer or basketball or video games. I always loved playing sports, but I was always more interested in going on nature walks with my mom, or painting, or writing poems. Don’t get me wrong- I dominated in water balloon fights and was one of the top athletes at that time, but I always felt pressure that the things I loved most were not the things I should be focusing on.
You’ve just won the lottery. What are you going to buy? Where will you travel?
I have a list of places I want to travel, which would definitely suck up most of my funds: India, Nepal, Russia, Chile, Peru, Jordan and Antarctica. If anyone is reading this from one of those countries, please invite me to come and give a presentation! Other than traveling, I would buy a new bicycle (I haven’t had a car in more than 10 years) and a waterwheel for my house in Madagascar. If I still have any money left, I would love to open a restaurant. If academia doesn’t work out for me, I would love this as an alternative job.
If you were a baseball player, and you came up to bat, what song would they play as your ‘signature song?’
I’m not good enough to play professional baseball, but if it was for the World Series of Whiffleball, my signature song would be DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win.”
Watch DJ Khaled perform “All I Do Is Win”:
Do you have a hidden talent?
I’m a really good cook. I’m using cook in the broadest sense of the word since I can cook a range of specialties from game meat stews to my own alcohol made from rotten bananas or sugar cane.
What is your favorite National Geographic photo?
March 20, 2012- Quiver Trees in Namibia. These are my favorite trees in the world and standing next to them you feel like you are on another planet. More so, Franz Lanting is one of my favorite photographers. Would love to meet him some day!
What is your favorite National Geographic magazine or news article?
In August 1988, there was a NGS magazine article on the lemurs of Madagascar. I read through that magazine when I was in 5th grade and cut the images out for my presentation. I can still remember finding that cover buried under stacks of other old magazines and then sitting in the corner of our library totally engrossed. I was obsessed with the weird and exotic, and Madagascar definitely had both of those qualities in excess.
If you were to bring back one species of animal that has gone extinct, what would it be?
Definitely a pterodactyl. I don’t know why, but I was obsessed with them when I was younger.