National Geographic December 2013, Part 1

To Walk the World, by Paul Salopek, photographs by John Stanmeyer

And finally I reach the beginning of the Out of Eden Walk series.  From now on, all posts on this topic will be in chronological order.

In this introductory article, Salopek explains his motivation for attempting this walk. He tells us how he wants to understand how small groups of a couple of hundred humans who originally left Africa, came to dominate the globe in such a relatively short space of time. He says that he wants to take this at the pace of a human’s walking speed so that he can learn everything he can, and also to document “current events as a form of pilgrimage.”  He will be following humanity as it spread out from Herto Bouri, Ethiopia, where the earliest human relics have been found, and eventually end up in Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

In this article, Salopek starts out at Herto Bouri, then goes northeast to Djibouti.  I feel the need to warn for one graphic image. On page 46 of this issue, there is a picture of a dead body on a lava field.  The body is in what looks to me to be an advanced state of decomposition and one can see some of the bones.

There is a map of Salopek’s expected path, and it looks to me, two years later, that he’s behind schedule.  There are years given, but no indication whether they are the beginning, middle, or end of the year.  The point for 2014 is in Tajikhstan and the point for 2015 is in India.  As of October 27, 2015, Salopek was in Georgia, which means he hasn’t even made it to that 2014 marker yet. So I guess we’re looking at this project going on until 2018 at least, rather than ending in 2017.

Ghost Cats, by Douglas Chadwick, photographs by Steve Winter

Ghost Cats is about the status of the American cougar in the United States.  The cougar is an apex predator, which means that a lot of humans are afraid of them. As a result, they have been driven out of a lot of inhabited places, which has thrown the ecological balance out of whack. But cougars are making a comeback. Scientists are tracking them with collars and cameras and observing their behavior, and the behavior of cougars is nothing like the scientists expected.  They expected the cougars to be largely solitary, but they seem to share space and prey fairly easily.

One of the reasons why humans don’t like cougars is the fear that they will kill livestock, pets, and be competition for prey with human hunters.  But it looks as though once a male gets established, a lot of the mayhem that humans have come to expect from cougars. One male being in charge of an area seems to reduce the number of other males that come into the area looking for food.

The photographs that accompany this article were largely taken with automatic cameras. And the camera must be very fast indeed, because the photos are so clear and crisp that they look almost like photographs of taxidermied animals, rather than living ones.  I looked carefully for any indication that taxidermy was involved, but all of the pictures seem to indicate that they were of living animals.