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January 13, 2013: Bonding With Elephants, Unlocking Our Genealogy, 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, or pick your favorite segments and listen now below! Episode: 1302 – Air Date:...

The Indian culture of raising and bonding with elephants has been slowly dying ever since the country banned the use of elephants for manual labor. Journalist and photographer Bhaskar Krishnamurthy explains that elephants are now mainly used for entertaining tourists and ceremonies like the one pictured here. (photo by Volkmar K. Wentzel)

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, or pick your favorite segments and listen now below!

Episode: 1302 – Air Date: January 13


Eastern Ecuador’s jungle is a dangerous place. Some of the threats are easy to see like jaguars and anacondas. Others, are much harder. Filmmaker Ryan Killackey just spent four straight months living in Ecuador’s Yasuni Man Biosphere Reserve and when he returned to the United States, he brought three friends along. Three botflies had made a home of his leg, which he had to remove by performing surgery on himself. Killackey’s film Yasuni Man, tells the story of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park seeks to tell the story of the park’s biodiversity, its native peoples and the threats it faces. Listen here.

Microbes that we can’t see affect so many things that we can see, feel – both by touch, as well as inside of ourselves. Emerging Explorer Nathan Wolfe tells Boyd that with every breath, we inhale living microbes that could be completely benign, or could cause a life-threatening illness. The microbes could be from Africa or Asia, just as easily as they could originate very close to us. Wolfe says that’s what keeps him exploring – the possibility that the next big discovery could be floating in front of his face. His article “Small, Small World” appears in the January, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine. Listen here.

India is home to many ancient cultures and practices; many of them thrive into the 21st Century, while others struggle to find a place in the quickly changing world. One of the struggling cultures is that of mahouts: the practice of raising and bonding with elephants, as if they were almost family. Journalist and photographer Bhaskar Krishnamurthy tells Boyd that since India banned using elephants for manual labor, they’re used mostly to entertain India’s tourists, and perform at weddings and other ceremonies. Many mahouts now struggle to make a living and the younger generations are beginning to abandon the practice. Listen here.

Many animals have symbiotic relationships with unlikely partners: rhinos live in harmony with oxpeckers, while baboons and elephants watch each other’s backs. But Vivek Venkataraman tells Boyd that primates rarely engage in this type of symbiotic relationship with carnivores. But grass-eating geladas and Ethiopian wolves live without much conflict. He says that in the grasslands where the geladas graze, the wolves seem to have an easier time hunting rodents than when the geladas aren’t around. Listen here.

David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, tells Boyd that a crocodile’s teeth may be more sensitive than a human’s fingertips. Nearly any movement in water nearby can attract the lizard’s attention, through their teeth. Listen here.


The “Planet of the Apes” may seem like purely fictional nonsense. But at least one group of chimps in Senegal is “manufacturing” tools. Emerging Explorer Jill Pruetz has been studying the apes and has seen them create spears by removing excess branches and sharpening the end to a point. They then use the weapons to whack snakes, hunt bush babies and ward off leopards. Listen here.

In the Judeo-Christian mythology, Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden before their descendants could populate all of the corners of the earth. And, as far as evolution is concerned, man had to leave his home in eastern Africa before the slow diaspora sent us across the Arabian peninsula, over the Bering Strait, all the way down to South America. While this walk took humans nearly 30,000 years, it will take Paul Salopek just seven years. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist focuses on “slow journalism,” to tell the stories of the people and places that he encounters while retracing the steps of humanity, in his “Listen here.

Many environmentalists rail against fossil fuels, but reporter Keith Kloor explains the feasibility of using coal energy in a cleaner way. He tells Boyd that the technology to capture the carbon emissions from using coal exists, but developing better technology to do it in a financially viable way is a very expensive process. Kloor says that, in the United States, clean coal may not make the most sense, but for countries like China and India that don’t have access to natural gas, it may be an option. Listen here.

When they left Africa 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, humans took very different paths. Some went east to Asia, others went north and west to Europe, but in the meantime, many stopped an became better acquainted with their Neandertal cousins in the Middle East. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells has developed the Genographic Project to map man’s genetic history, and decode our DNA to map man’s route through history. He also is capable of calculating the percentage of Neandertal in each person’s genetic past. Listen here.

In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd gives us a preview of his gift to National Geographic for its quasquicentennial birthday. He’s hosting a Google+ Hangout with National Geographic Explorers from all of the corners of the globe. A team of super-friends, including Jane Goodall, Robert Ballard and James Cameron will all video chat from around the world, while the citizens of the internet send in their questions. Listen here.

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Meet the Author

Gina Cook
Gina Cook is an intern for the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend. She is a graduate student studying multimedia journalism at the University of Missouri.