Amazon Monkey Lady

Can you speak monkey?  Well if you hang out with them long enough you’re bound to pick up a few words.  After more than thirty years in the Amazon, Dr. Sara Bennett can talk some monkey, which, with a little encouragement on my part, she demonstrated for me one sweltering morning on Mocagua Island in the Colombian Amazon.  One wooly monkey in particular also had a lot to say to Sara.  I’m sure what he was saying was the same thing most of the monkeys on this island adjacent to Amacayacu National Park probably say to her, “Thank you.  Thank you for saving us and for starting the rescue center that takes in orphaned and captive monkeys in this part of the Amazon.

Dr. Sara Bennett got a grant from National Geographic to study trees when she first went to the Amazon, but she soon fell in love with the creatures that live in the trees, and began working with local tribes helping them understand the importance of altering their hunting and fishing practices so they would be more sustainable.  On Mocagua Island which is shared by four different tribes she got them to agree to stop the hunting of wooly monkeys which were in danger of being wiped out.  It was here that she also helped establish Maikuchiga, a small non-profit that operates a rescue center for orphaned animals.

Most of the rescued animals are monkeys that were in either in captivity or were orphaned after hunters killed their mothers.  Sara now uses the rescued monkeys as educational ambassadors.  This video shows Sara and some of her rescued monkeys jumping in her arms and climbing on her head.   It also shows some of the monkeys trying to help me with the filming.

Charged By A Black Rhino

We wanted to get close to black rhinos, we just hadn’t planned on getting this close.  I was in Zimbabwe at the Malilangwe Wildlife reserve working on a story about African rhinos for National Geographic when we decided it would add a nice visual element to the piece if we tracked some black rhinos on foot.  My guide, Brad Forchet, our tracker, Difficult, from Singita’s Pamushana Lodge and I set out on the trail of two rhinos early one morning but we were having little success in catching up to our quarry.  They were just moving too fast.

After a couple of hours we gave up on the rhinos and decided to kill time and hopefully get some good ground level video of a big bull elephant.  But when we were within fifty yards of the elephant, Difficult spotted a black rhino in the bushes behind us.  We changed courses again and began trying to sneak up close to the rhino.  Once we were fairly close, Brad started making rhino calls hoping to get our rhino to stick her head out of the bushes for better pictures.

As you’ll see in this video she not only stuck her head out, but her whole body, and then decided to come in for a really close look at us.  That’s a nice way of saying, “she charged us.”  Yes I have now been charged by a black rhino and lived to tell about it.  It does make for an entertaining video, but the real story here is what’s happening to Africa’s rhinos and we tell that story this week on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend”.  We also talk about the success of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in protecting rhinos in Zimbabwe at the same time record numbers are being killed in South Africa.

Remembering Motown’s 20th Anniversary

Motown Records was started by Barry Gordy to give black artists in the Detroit area a shot at making hit records, but what he ended up creating was a company that provided a soundtrack for life during much of the 60’s and 70’s.  On the 20th anniversary of Motown, the company was headquartered in Los Angeles, their first million selling singer, Smokey Robinson, was still recording, but he was also a vice-president at Motown.

This video is a story I did for the Today Show looking back at Motown’s success on their 20th anniversary.  At the end of the story after filming the Temptations in a rehearsal the guys were sitting around and sang a little song especially for the Today Show.

Since most people are thinking about that great American institution the Super Bowl today, I though before the game begins you could use a little break and enjoy a few moments of pleasure from another American institution, Motown Records.

Papua New Guinea: Primitive Portrait

Leaving the comforts of home and the security of the familiar to explore the unknown deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, where encounters with cannibals were all but assured, was once a common plot line in adventure movies.  The believability of these fictional tales was enhanced by the occasional true story of an explorer or missionary killed by some isolated tribe that was previously unknown to the outside world.  But the real source of suspense for any journey into the highlands of New Guinea was the documented evidence of tribes practicing cannibalism well into the second half of the 20th century.

I first visited Papua New Guinea in 1986.  By then the outside world had penetrated most regions of this island nation.  But in some places the 20th century had only the slightest toehold.  In one village I saw a man wearing a Michael Jackson tee shirt standing next to another man wearing a penis gourd.  Traditions versus modernity, a story that’s played out again and again in many cultures, but one that in New Guinea seemed to cover a great chasm in a shorter time frame than in most other places.

This video shows the conflict between old and new.  It’s part one of a five part series I did for the Today Show in ’86.  I would phrase some of my commentary a little differently today, but back then we called it a Primitive Portrait.  I though of that trip this week when interviewing Mark Jenkins for my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.”   Mark wrote the article in the current issue of “National Geographic Magazine”  about one of the last nomadic, cave dwelling tribes in new Guinea and their struggle to survive as traditional hunter gatherers.

In another twenty-five years will anyone in Papua New Guinea still be living the way they were when I was there twenty-five years ago, other than in villages setup to entertain tourists?  Should they be?  Should we expect any group of people to remain frozen in time, isolated from the schools and clinics, and tools, and conveniences’ that make life easier, and healthier?  No, I think change has come and will continue to come even to the last isolated holdouts.  The real question is, will it happen too fast, will they be overwhelmed and lose any sense of who they are and their sense of place in their world?