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November 9, 2014: Rescue Storm Survivors from Everest, Test an Elephant’s Memory 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 on radio, or listen below! HOUR 1 – On...

Elephants are very social creatures and they have terrific memories. Nat Geo Explorer Joyce Poole explains that they can remember humans for years after meeting them and that they regularly go back to visit the places where their relatives died. (photo by Chris Johns/National Geographic)

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 on radio, or listen below!


– On April 18, 2014, 16 Sherpas were killed in a tragic avalanche on Mount Everest, which is the deadliest day in the mountain’s history. The previous mark for the mountain’s highest death toll in a single accident happened in 1996, when eight climbers were trapped in a snowstorm and died. Climber and filmmaker David Brashears was on the mountain that day. He helped shepherd frostbitten and disoriented survivors high off the mountain in the storm’s aftermath. Knowing that it would end his pursuit of the summit, and put the film in jeopard, Brashears gave much of his bottled oxygen to the effort to rescue the climbers trapped in the blizzard. He explains that today, Everest’s base camp is a different place: it’s crowded, there are dozens of teams all pushing through short weather windows to the summit. He explains the difference in Everest’s culture between the way commercial outfitters pursue the summit today and back in the 1980’s and 90’s.

– In the second segment of his interview, David Brashears explains that when he’s choosing a team of people to summit one of the world’s highest mountains, he picks people with different strengths. That way, they have a team mentality, and they rely on each other for survival, and the only way they’ll leave a teammate on the mountain is in a life and death scenario where it’s impossible to save everybody’s life. But Brashears says that the draw of the Himalayas isn’t necessarily the summits of the world’s tallest mountains. His company, Glacierworks, seeks to understand how the warming climate affects the Himalayan glaciers and what the future looks like for the people who inhabit the valleys in the shadows of the world’s tallest peaks.

– National Geographic Traveler “Traveler of the Year” honorees Kip Patrick and Elizabeth Zipse spent 18 months traveling the globe, and on their voyage, at least one day each week, they volunteered to help the people whose country they were visiting. They explain that there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available, from teaching Buddhist monks English in Laos, to picking up trash on the way to Mount Everest’s base camp. Patrick and Zipse explain that they don’t only volunteer when the travel — at home, they still give time each week to help where they can. They created an organization, called 1 of 7, that details volunteer opportunities abroad and explains their travel ethos.

– Orangutans in Borneo face a malicious threat: their forest homes are being fragmented for palm oil plantations, so different populations of the great apes are being separated in chunks of isolated treetops. Orangutan conservationist Willie Smits explains that they’ll survive in pockets, but the isolation threatens their genetic diversity, leaving them vulnerable to disease. But Smits has been working with locals to help them protect the forest from encroachment from palm oil companies. He has also released 600 orphaned orangutans back into the forest. His research station is currently home to another 1,000 orphaned orangutans, who, with luck, will be released back into the forest.

– Countries have endless amounts of money in the name of national security and military budgets. But if nations around the world put just 2.5% of their annual military budgets toward conservation and the proper management of parklands, Wildlife Conservation Society’s James Watson argues that we could save much of the world’s biodiversity. Watson argues that proper management of parks is urgent, as opposed to what happens to parklands in much of the world, where parks are established and then left just as lines on a map, without any actual government protection.


– Elephants are renowned for their memory. National Geographic Explorer Joyce Poole tells Boyd that their memory is legendary, and it’s just as strong as their ability to socialize. The animals will regularly visit the bodies of dead elephants from their herds, to the point that they will wear walking-paths through vegetation to these grave sites. Poole also tells the story of one wild elephant she studied named Vladimir, with which she developed quite a friendly working relationship that lasted over twelve years. She has now created an app to remotely track elephants through the observations of Maasai locals and visitors, where they upload images and herd locations and numbers for Poole to study.

– North Korea is an isolated and closed society whose relationships with most other nations are touchy, at best. Naturally, it’s a surprise to many that the country would host Western tourists. But tour operator Vicky Mohieddeen helps guide people through the country. She explains that she’s had very few people denied visas, and that it’s “extremely rare for foreigners to be detained” there, but there are many rules that are important to follow. Mohieddeen explains that the pace of life in Pyongyang is very different from most other Asian cities of a similar size: people work 6 days each week, and there isn’t much of a consumer culture that brings people out to shopping districts. She also says that try as North Korea’s government might try to project an image of prosperity, it’s hard to hide the lack of development when they stay in hotels that don’t have indoor plumbing or have regular power outages.

– Chimpanzees are some of man’s closest relatives, but National Geographic grantee and Yale primatologist David Watts says that we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that they approach the world in the same way we do. Their aggressive behaviors and motivations come from a very different place than ours do. He says that aggression is a daily event in the lives of chimps, inside social groups. But he points out that the displays of aggression that tend to get the most attention are those between separate social groups. Watts explains why chimps do war, and it’s not to protect their interests abroad. He also offers hope for our species: while chimpanzee violence is not something they can escape, “humans can. Antagonistic groups have made peace with each other, and even formed alliances against others, which is beyond the capacity of chimpanzees.”

– Ladybugs are pretty bugs, with their bright colors and spots that capture the attention of children everywhere. But the good looking insects that play in our gardens are actually voracious predators munching on aphids. But even hungry ladybugs have to watch their backs, explains Carl Zimmer, as they’re important vectors for a type of parasitic wasps that borrow their bodies and their less important organs to grow their larvae. Once the larvae burst out of the ladybugs’ body, the colorful predators will then stand guard over the wasp cocoon until the wasp is ready to move out into the world. Zimmer describes a whole world of parasites that cause their hosts to display odd behaviors in the November 2014 cover story of National Geographic magazine, “Mindsuckers“.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd describes his recent trip to formerly war-torn Rwanda. He learned about the measures the country took to overcome their recent genocidal past, and the nation-building measures they take now such as the mandatory monthly “clean up day” that each citizen must participate in.

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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.