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December 21, 2014: Reviving the Mammoth, Traveling From Canada to Tibet With 2 Kids and 0 Airplanes

  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. You can listen to a growing archive of our interviews on SoundCloud as well! HOUR 1 – Some holiday travelers dread the crush of bodies...


Bruce Kirkby and his wife traveled by canoe, cargo ship, train and horseback from British Columbia to a Himalayan Buddhist monastery. He said his kids took well to the break from the distractions of everyday life. (photo by Bruce Kirkby)

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.

You can listen to a growing archive of our interviews on SoundCloud as well!


– Some holiday travelers dread the crush of bodies and long lines at airports, and even more so when young travelers and babies are included. So when Bruce Kirkby and his wife Christine decided to live in a Buddhist monastery in India’s Himalayan foothills, they skipped airplanes altogether and canoed, train-ed, and cargo-shipped their family around the planet. Once they arrived at the monastery, the adults taught English in exchange for the privilege of praying and working alongside the monks. Kirkby explains that his seven and three year old boys took well to the austerity of the 8-by-8 foot room that the family shared for three months. Kirkby says that he thinks the experience left his sons “properly feral”.

– High altitude mountain climbers are a peculiar breed of human, and Conrad Anker definitely fits the description. His love of spending time in freezing temperatures at thinly oxygenated altitudes leaves Anker concluding that “deep down, there’s some part of me that has some satisfaction in suffering and hardship and maybe I’m not quite balanced,” but he tells Boyd that he would much rather spend 20 days on Everest than visit his local shopping mall in the days before Christmas. The famed mountaineer also explains how he doesn’t plan to stop climbing as he gets older, but his achievements may become less extreme: “If I can climb 5 or 6 (thousand meter peaks) into my 80’s and 90’s, I’ll be totally psyched.”

– It might be hard to understand from our 21st Century perspectives, but Tulane anthropologist and National Geographic grantee Dr. John Verano says that in at least one time and place on Earth, becoming a human sacrifice to the gods would have been considered a high honor. Verano studies Peru’s Chimu culture from the 1400’s and explains that it’s hard to be sure what the Chimu intended when they sacrificed people and llamas, but he’s certain that whatever they hoped to gain from the offerings, it was a very serious business: “Of course, children are a great resource in a society, and that’s not something you part with voluntarily. And llamas, are valuable animals for meat and transportation. Killing in a sacrifice like this implies that it was very important.”

– Decoding the human genome for the first time cost three billion dollars. Now, exploring the secrets locked in DNA costs just $1,000. Harvard geneticist Dr. George Church explains that there are endless applications for this capability, from genetic counseling that has helped eliminate Tay-Sachs Disease to potentially reducing HIV and delaying early-onset Alzheimer’s by decades. But one of the visceral applications of genetics is the possibility of bringing back animals that have been extinct for thousands of years, like the woolly mammoth. Church explains that the mammoth should be possible to recreate, because we have decoded its DNA, and it has a close living relative – the Asian elephant. Of course, Church has seen Jurassic Park, and acknowledges that working with large furry pachyderms is much safer than trying to bring back the various denizens of Jurassic Park fame.

– National Geographic Digital Nomad Robert Reid doesn’t know how many countries he’s visited. He travels all the time, but he deliberately resists the urge to count the number of stamps his passport holds as backlash against those travelers who competitively list the locales they’ve “visited”, not taking the time to experience local culture. Reid encourages his readers to throw out their travel lists and chase experiences and earnest interactions with those different from us.


– Rappers often boast about the number of homes, cars or girlfriends they have, but few crack open Canterbury Tales to distill the words of Geoffrey Chaucer into rhyme. But Baba Brinkman isn’t a typical rapper. He has a Master’s degree in literature and had a residency at the University of Tennessee while he was composing his album about Darwin’s ideas on evolution. In his newest album, “The Rap Guide to Wilderness,” Brinkman gives a shout out to National Geographic, while promoting a message of protecting the wilderness. Brinkman explains that rap is a generally urban art form, but humans were created in nature and we can’ t survive without it: “It’s a relatively new concept that we’re separate from it, but we’re just another species, and all this glass and concrete is a fairly recent development.”

– Similar to spending months in a gym and improving our overall physical fitness, we can train our brains and improve our IQ, and not simply just prepare for tests by acquiring knowledge. Such is the claim explored by Dan Hurley in his new book, Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power. Hurley also explains that, like muscles that have been allowed to atrophy, if we don’t regularly exercise our brains, we’ll drop IQ points just as quickly as we gained them. “It’s known that if you want to lower someone’s IQ, put them in solitary confinement for 6 months. And those people come out traumatized, but they’re losing IQ because they’re not interacting… (The brain) is designed to engage closely with the world about it.”

– Backcountry sports are dangerous by design – pursuing adventure in places that are remote often removes the athletes from the range of quick rescue. Backcountry skiers need to be frank in addressing risk, and trust their own decisions to ensure survival. But in David Page’s recent article for Powder magazine, he cites many examples of skiers unwittingly doing just the opposite. Page explains that in his research for “The Human Factor,” he learned that human mistakes are the cause of many avalanches. Page says that the best way to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of an avalanche is to take as many decisions as possible out of the backcountry and follow firm safety rules that are created in response to the constantly changing snow and weather conditions.

– Humans have lived in Europe for thousands of years, and, as a result, the continent is littered with ancient churches, castles and relics of successes and failures of our cultural history. But many North Americans might not realize that the continent also offers opportunity to witness wolves, bears and wildlife that generally evokes Alaska’s wide open landscapes. Photographer Staffan Widstrand explains that over the years, Europeans have become more tolerant of living near large wildlife and, because of this nature-friendly perspective, Europe is “having a major wildlife comeback.”

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd discusses risk and how excitement can cause people to change their minds about the rules they’ve set up for their own personal safety, whether it’s near a large ocean storm surge, on the edge of a Hawaiian volcano, or scuba diving.

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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.