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National Geographic Magazine

National Geographic Magazine January 2018

The latest news in science, exploration, and culture will open your eyes to the world’s many wonders. Get a National Geographic digital magazine subscription today and experience the same high-quality articles and breathtaking photography contained in the print edit.

United States
National Geographic Society
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from the editor

‘IF YOU TAKE CARE OF THE BIRDS, YOU TAKE CARE OF MOST OF THE BIG PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD.’ That’s what Thomas Lovejoy says, and he should know. The famed biologist and conservationist, a National Geographic–funded scientist, helped introduce the term “biological diversity” to the world. And he long predicted that by early in the 21st century, the Earth would start losing a dramatic number of species—a prediction, unfortunately, that is turning out to be spot-on. We were taken with Lovejoy’s quote about birds and decided to use it as a launchpad for what we’re calling the Year of the Bird. In this 12-month multiplatform exploration—with our partners from the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology—we’ll examine how our changing environment is leading to dramatic losses among…

seeking a safe, green colombia

You dramatically expanded, by thousands of square miles, areas protected in parks, wildlife sanctuaries, marine reserves, and elsewhere. Why were you so intent on doing that? We are one of the richest countries in terms of biodiversity, and we are one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. That gives us a special responsibility to protect, as soon as possible, the largest amount of territories that are a jewel for Colombians and for humanity. That’s why I accelerated the process of protecting the most valuable resources we have. Colombia faces many challenges in the postwar era: compensating farmers who were ousted from their land, educating some 7,000 demobilized guerrillas, accounting for tens of thousands of people who are missing and presumed dead, and removing land mines buried throughout the countryside. What’s…


Taiwan “Rubber Duck,” a 59-foot-tall inflatable sculpture created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, was on display for a month in Kaohsiung. The installation drew large crowds and inspired a tribute, performed by costumed young girls. Ronit Singh Bhullar Mumbai, India Bhullar had read that birds flocked near one of New Delhi’s Yamuna ghats, stairs that lead down to the river. One evening a man in a boat fed the birds, which brought them together in Bhullar’s frame. “The sun was about to set, so I was aware of the perfect color the sky would give me,” he says. Order prints of select National Geographic photos online at NationalGeographicArt.com. PHOTO: ASHLEY PON, GETTY IMAGES…

homage to the extinct

The caracaras of Guadalupe only became valuable once they’d nearly vanished. Abundant on the Mexican island in 1876, the raptors were systematically shot and poisoned as pests. By the late 1800s the endemic birds of prey had become extremely rare—and of interest to collectors. People started trapping them, hoping to sell the live birds to the highest bidder. They went extinct anyway—which makes them an appropriately ironic subject for Laurel Roth Hope. Years ago Hope, a self-taught artist who once worked as a park ranger, found herself observing urban pigeons. “I started thinking about the way we ascribe value to things that are rare and denigrate things that are common, and how that affects the way we see wildlife,” she says. “I wanted to put the two together.” Hope began crocheting what…

solving crimes against birds

“I identify the victims of wildlife crime— if the victim is a bird.” That’s how forensic ornithologist Pepper Trail (above, at his Ashland, Oregon-based lab) summarizes his job. The position is so rare that he’s one of just two people in the United States to hold it. The work is inherently macabre. First Trail picks through the evidence— bagged bones and feathers, or even whole carcasses, that wildlife law enforcement agents send him from the field. Next he performs an analysis. Sometimes he recognizes the species right away; if he doesn’t, he conducts a prolonged examination that involves building a theory from details such as size and plumage pattern. Once Trail has identified the species, his job is usually done. His colleagues—scientists who, like Trail, are U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service…

trash in nests tells a story

The white plastic bags fluttering in the treetops of the Italian Alps intrigued Fabrizio Sergio. The Italian ecologist knew the trash hung from the nests of a certain bird, the black kite. But why? Many species of birds decorate their nests to attract a mate—but kites already have partners when they build nests. Still, the ornamentation on kite nests suggests “that there’s something they want to show off,” says Sergio, who works for the Spanish National Research Council. As he and other scientists study the makeup of birds’ nests, they’re looking for signs of human influence. Some birds have begun using insulation, foil, and cigarette butts, for example, instead of natural materials, says Luis Sandoval, an ornithology professor at the University of Costa Rica. These adaptations may increase their reproductive success—or indicate…