Hi, everyone! This is Becca, here to tell you all about the Explorers’ Symposium ’09 at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, on Thursday the 11th! I drove down from Pennsylvania and arrived at the symposium at 5 o’clock.
Before going into the hors d’oeuvres party, I walked around National Geographic’s really cool sculpture garden with my dad. It had statues of lots of different bugs, my favorite being a group of leaf-cutter ants carrying the greenery on their backs. That reminded me a lot of the trip to Peru and how much I miss all of the fabulous people on it.
At the party, I got to meet a bunch of the Hands On Explorer winners from previous years who have visited the Galapagos, South Africa, and the Land Down Under (Australia)–and then there was Pete from Peru. As we snacked on Indian samosas and pizza bites, we walked around and talked to some real explorers! One explorer, Kristofer Helgen, discovered previously unidentified animals like the smallest kangaroo and a type of bat and got to name them. Another, Gregory Anderson, has tried to revive tribal languages by teaching them to kids. The words of these languages were set to music, so that people would enjoy learning the language even more. Cool!
After a few group shots, all of us went into a big auditorium for a presentation by some notable explorers in residence. Our moderator was–Boyd Matson! I know him; he was on our trip! He introduced our first explorer, Spencer Wells. He has dedicated himself to unraveling the mysteries of the human genome: when did people migrate from Africa to Europe, how closely related are we all? He has gotten hundreds of samples of DNA from many ethnic groups for The Genographic Project, and is trying to trace the origins of different peoples all over the world.
Next, we heard from Zeresenay Alemseged, a paleoanthropologist (a scientist of the origins of the human race). He discovered a 3.3 million year old girl, called Selam, in Dikika, Ethiopia. Technically, she is not a human, but an Australopithecus, a human ancestor. The three-year-old Australopithecus had a bone structure that suggests adaptation to walking upright and tree climbing. This human ancestor is even older than Lucy, the adult Australopithecus found in 1974! That’s old!
Wade Davis told us about the diversity and beauty of our world. He has met people from all over the world, from the Aborigines to Amazonian tribes. Due to the dominance of some societies, smaller tribal ones are fading away, and with every tribe lost, we lose a piece of knowledge forever. Wade Davis has been learning from these sorts of tribes, sharing their culture. One story he had to tell was when he met a woman who had lived in a small room for fifty years, without ever coming out. This Buddhist woman was seeking enlightenment and, after fifty years in that room, she opened the windows and looked outside and smiled; she said that she had reached enlightenment to the greatest degree. What do you think? Either way, I don’t ever want to live in a room for fifty years without leaving!
Paul Sereno, a paleontologist, has found many different kinds of dinosaurs in five continents. One of his many finds, this one in the Gobi Desert in China, was a group of 20 or so “teenaged” dinosaurs that died in their tracks. There were no adults, nor were there any babies. Was this some dinosaur prom gone wrong? We don’t know. He has also found a type of crocodile that walked on legs like a dog, but moved like crocs nowadays when it hit the water. Not my idea of man’s best friend, but, then again, I’ve never had a pet crocodile, so I shouldn’t judge.
Last but not least, we met Dereck and Beverly Joubert. They are photographers and videographers who capture the life of the big cats for the general public. They are the ultimate Tarzan and Jane: they can get really close to the wild without scaring it away. One time, the Jouberts met a group of baby lions that followed them around for a few days, introduced themselves to the equipment with some “interesting” results, and just acted cute. They got this all on tape, and showed us a movie of the ah-dorable baby lions, as well as others of the zebra migration and lions hunting. They also told us about how poaching, global warming and buying land for development have impacted the big cats and how, if we don’t do something, the lion population will be on the road to extinction.
The Symposium was really fun! I hope more of my friends from the Peru trip can come to it next year!