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December 23, 2012: Whispering Dogs’ Secrets, Saving Cheetahs with Donkeys, and More

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend. Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend! HOUR 1 Most people who see a dog misbehave see a poorly trained...

Cheetahs can speed up to 65 mph to capture wild prey on the African savannah. Livestock have also become prime prey, causing Namibian farmers to use surprising tactics to thwart the speedy cats. (photo by Chris Johns)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend!


Most people who see a dog misbehave see a poorly trained animal. But Cesar Millan sees a dog that hasn’t been given proper direction and protection from its owner. Humans may see the word “love” as coddling and giving treats to their pet, but, Millan tells Boyd, a dog feels loved when it receives exercise, discipline and affection. He also reflects on his own personal journey from an illegal immigrant to having a successful dog empire. His new book, Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog, is out in January, 2013. Listen here.

Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are slums that are surrounded by some of the most breathtaking natural landscape found in a city. Penned in by beaches on one side and steep granite cliffs on the other, drug cartels ran the neighborhoods until just this year, when the government cracked down in anticipation of the World Cup soccer tournament. When Asa Firestone realized those granite cliffs might be open for climbing, he didn’t hesitate to attempt to revive Rio’s climbing culture that has been dormant since the 1970’s. His company, Beyond Gear, makes climbing gear and helps teach favela youths to climb, in hopes that it could lead to a career as a guide on the city’s cliffs. Listen here.

Many animals that aren’t very charismatic and large often have their plight overlooked. But sometimes an animal on the brink captures the imagination of conservationists and the public and a successful campaign can be mounted to save that creature, much like the success of the California condor’s reintroduction to the wild. Artist Jane Kim is trying to get the public’s attention with her Migrating Murals project, highlighting the plight of endangered animals and their migrations. Her first project is to portray California’s Bighorn sheep along their mountain migration route. Listen here.

Namibia is a country that has more cheetahs than anywhere else in the world. From the perspective of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, that’s a good thing. But it can be problematic for local ranchers, whose big, slow cattle tempt the spotted feline locals. But N/a’an ku sê Foundation‘s Florian Weise helps locals solve a common problem in an uncommon way: he’s bonding very aggressive donkeys with cattle. The donkeys bite and kick and watch the backs of their cow friends, which is deterrent enough for the skittish cats. Listen here.

David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, tells Boyd about the blog’s ten most popular stories of the year. David tells Boyd that the top story of the year is a blood-red temple devoted to the Mayan sun god. Listen here.


The world didn’t come to an end on December 21, 2012, much to the chagrin a popular, but incorrect, reading of the Mayan “calendar.” While John Cusack may be baffled, National Geographic explorer Bill Saturno is unsurprised. That’s because the archaeologist has discovered a room with Mayan hieroglyphics that show their calculations for another age, following this one that is slated to end on 12/21/12. He tells Boyd that the Mayan understanding of ages is more like a car’s odometer – it simply rolls over into another era, for which they might apply another digit. Listen here.

Gaza is a nation bordered by Israel, a country with which it is in near-constant conflict, and Egypt, a country that, for good relations with Israel, doesn’t get too cozy with Gaza. James Verini tells Boyd that, in order to get goods in and out, Gaza has built a tunnel system that allows them to cart in all types of goods from Egypt, everything from basic food needs, to cars and, at least once, a lion for the zoo. His article about Gaza’s tunnels appears in the December, 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine. Listen here.

Honey in Turkey is a valuable commodity to the region, and the quality of the honey is known around the world. National Geographic Young Explorer Cat Jaffee began a company that sells honey tours and helps local women set up sustainable honey harvests for market. Claire Bangser is a photographer who went to work with Cat and documented much of the honey harvest, and took many photographs of bees. While in Turkey, she learned that bees are, for whatever reason, attracted to a camera and sting more when other bees begin to sting. Listen here.

As land in the Arctic begins to thaw, vast deposits of methane are beginning to escape into the atmosphere, further warming the Earth. National Geographic Energy Editor Marianne Lavelle tells Boyd that with a third of the United States’ natural gas comes from shale, which is a type of rock that stores the methane. But once tapped, the gas also seeps into the atmosphere. Her article, “Good Gas, Bad Gas” appears in the December, 2012 issue ofNational Geographic magazine, and outlines the methane controversy. Listen here.

How do you lose an elephant? In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares the story of an entire herd of disappearing pachyderms and where he found them on a recent trip to Namibia’s “Big Empty” desert. Listen here.

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Meet the Author

Justin O'Neill
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.