WASHINGTON (Feb. 5, 2007)–Eight young, visionary trailblazers — including a polar adventurer, a former Sudanese “lost boy,” a primatologist and a Congolese environmental hero — have been named to the 2007 class of National Geographic Emerging Explorers.
National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists, photographers and storytellers who are making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration while still early in their careers. The Emerging Explorers each receive an award of $10,000 to assist with their research and to aid further exploration.
Emerging Explorers for 2007 are humanitarian and former Sudanese refugee John Bul Dau, of Syracuse, N.Y.; environmental crusader and polar adventurer David de Rothschild, of London; conservation scientist Luke Dollar, of Concord, N.C.; tropical botanist Corneille Ewango, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; primatologist and conservationist Mireya Mayor, of Miami; musical explorer and filmmaker Joshua Ponté, of London; Spanish marine ecologist and conservation biologist Enric Sala, of San Diego; and filmmaker and globalist Roshini Thinakaran, of Washington, D.C., and formerly of Sri Lanka.
National Geographic Emerging Explorers may be selected from virtually any field, from the Society’s traditional arenas of anthropology, archaeology, photography, space exploration, sociology, earth sciences, geology, mountaineering, cartography, education and history to the worlds of art, music and filmmaking.
“A key mission of National Geographic over the past 119 years has been to support and chronicle achievements of explorers and to sponsor their scientific expeditions. The Emerging Explorers program identifies and honors outstanding adventurers who are setting out on promising careers. They represent tomorrow’s Edmund Hillarys, Jacques Cousteaus and Dian Fosseys,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for Mission Programs.
The new class of Emerging Explorers is introduced in the February 2007 issue of National Geographic magazine. A Web feature at nationalgeographic.com/emerging includes comprehensive profiles of the explorers and their activities.
National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers are part of the Society’s Explorers Program, which includes 13 Explorers-in-Residence and four National Geographic Fellows.
John Bul Dau: Dau, 32, is a Sudanese native who fled his country as a 13-year-old in 1987 to escape civil war. For the next five years he wandered 1,000 miles, barefoot, to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, then to Kenya, dodging ambushes, massacres and wild animal attacks. He lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for nine years before being selected for immigration to the United States in 2001. While working 60 hours a week as a security guard, he completed an associate degree at Onondaga Community College and is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University. His experiences and those of several other “lost boys” are chronicled in the award-winning feature documentary “God Grew Tired of Us,” released by National Geographic and New Market Films in 2007. Dau has also written a memoir published by National Geographic under the same title. Helping the Sudanese people has become a focus of Dau’s life. Through his initiative, the Sudanese Lost Boys of New York Foundation was established, raising tens of thousands of dollars to cover the academic and medical expenses of Sudanese refugees in the United States. He also created the American Care for Sudan Foundation, which is raising funds to build a health clinic in Sudan. Dau was recently named director of Sudan projects for Direct Change, an organization formed to fund health care and education for vulnerable children in Africa.
David de Rothschild: De Rothschild, 28, recently completed a trek across Antarctica via the South Pole and five months later set a speed record for crossing Greenland. He has also made it to the North Pole. Based in London, de Rothschild is now navigating a new landscape: cyberspace. His portal, “Adventure Ecology,” uses the excitement of daring expeditions to inspire interest in geography and environmental issues among children and unite them in the fight against global warming and environmental degradation. The Adventure Ecology Web sites provide a gateway for kids to learn about global environmental problems, classroom lesson plans, reports on de Rothschild’s expeditions, and places to blog and chat with other Adventure Ecology Club members around the globe and play ecology-oriented video games. De Rothschild is currently planning his next expedition, which will take him either to the Amazon or on a trek to Siberia’s Lake Baikal.
Luke Dollar: Dollar, 33, is devoted to the study and conservation of threatened species in Madagascar. He recently earned a Ph.D. in ecology from Duke University and won the prestigious Duke Humanitarian Service Award. He iscurrently assistant professor of biology at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. His research falls into three categories: study of the ecology and conservation of the fossa and other predators in Madagascar; analysis of deforestation using satellite images and remote sensing techniques; and running conservation, education and development projects. He is the first scientist to conduct long-term studies of a mammal known as the fossa, an elusive predator, as well as other carnivores found only in Madagascar. His decade of fieldwork has quantified the fossa’s shrinking numbers, now about 2,500, and yielded a trove of data on its biology and behavior.
Corneille Ewango: As a boy, Congolese botanist Ewango, 42, helped his poacher uncle collect ivory. As his knowledge of the vast tropical forests within his country expanded, he embraced ecology and conservation. His passion became botany. As a staff member of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Democratic Republic of Congo program, he was responsible for the Okapi Faunal Reserve’s botany program from 1996 to 2003. The reserve covers 3 million acres and protects plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Ewango risked his life to defend the reserve and its people during the Congo’s civil war years. As the reserve’s offices were looted, animals and habitat destroyed and senior staff evacuated, Ewango refused to leave. He rallied 30 junior staff and 1,500 forest residents to stand up to marauding militias. He gave irreplaceable plant specimens to friends for safekeeping and buried research materials and data files. To save his own life he hid in the forest for three months. In recognition of his courage he received a scholarship and earned his M.S. degree at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. He returned to the Congo forests and continues research linking tropical ecology with the conservation of protected areas.
Mireya Mayor: Mayor, 33, a primatologist and conservationist, is a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation Fellow. In 1996 she received her first grant to study the rare brown-bearded saki and white-faced saki in Guyana. Since then, she has received numerous grants and awards to study rare primates in the wild. She is one of a handful of scientists to research the highly endangered silky sifaka and Perrier sifaka lemurs, whose habits were a mystery to biologists, and her efforts have advanced the biological study of lemurs while contributing to their conservation. While exploring the backcountry of Madagascar, she discovered a new species of mouse lemur. Her work with this rare primate inspired the prime minister of Madagascar to establish a national park to help protect the new species. Mayor also is a two-time Emmy Award-nominated field correspondent on the National Geographic Explorer TV series. While not in the jungle, or on assignment for National Geographic, Mayor teaches anthropology and forensics at the University of Miami. She is currently obtaining her Ph.D. at Stony Brook University.
Joshua Ponté: Born and educated in England, Ponté, 36, is a musical explorer and wildlife videographer with a passion for conservation. He went to Gabon in 2001 and spent a year living with 13 orphaned Western lowland gorillas reintroduced into the wild. He then worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society in the development of the national parks network created in 2002. In 2004 he set out to film and record music, dance and rituals on the verge of extinction and capture the broadest possible diversity of Gabon’s 45 different ethnicities. He produced a double CD, with pure field music and new compositions based on Gabonese rhythms, melodies and voices. He went on to tour the world with “1 Giant Leap,” a music and film project that recorded music and commentary from every corner of the planet.
Ponte returned to Gabon in 2005 to film a cross-section of viewpoints from loggers, Pygmies, conservationists, oil company officials and politicians to create a revealing snapshot of tensions shaping Gabon today. The documentary combining the film and music is currently being edited for release. Revenues from his projects will go through his People Music Project to help Gabon’s sustainable development and conservation efforts.
Enric Sala: Sala, 38, is a marine ecologist who fell in love with the sea growing up on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Witnessing the harm people do to oceans led him to dedicate his career to understanding and finding ways to mitigate human impacts, such as overfishing, pollution and coastal development. After obtaining a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Aix-Marseille, France, Sala moved to the United States where he became professor of marine ecology and conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Recently he joined Spain’s National Council for Scientific Research. Sala’s research develops practical solutions to improve the health of our oceans. His scientific publications are widely recognized and used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine reserves in Belize and the Sea of Cortes. He helped create the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and an innovative multidisciplinary program to train future leaders in marine conservation. He is a 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, a 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation and a Wildlife Conservation Society Research Fellow.
Roshini Thinakaran: Thinakaran, 29, is a filmmaker who travels to countries ripped by war and reeling in its aftermath. Her research has taken her to Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Amid all the destruction she sees strong, resilient women with a passion for rebuilding their lives and countries. In 2006 she founded Bridge the Gap Media, a nonprofit organization focused on showcasing global issues facing women and minority communities. The inspiring stories of women in hostile environments led Thinakaran to create “Women at the Forefront,” a film project that looks at war and conflict through the eyes of women. The project is now evolving into a TV series and an interactive Web site, www.WomenAtTheForefront.com. Born in Sri Lanka but raised in the United States, Thinakaran received a B.A. in communications and journalism from George Mason University. Her ultimate goal is to bring awareness of women who are making real strides in conflict-ridden countries and eventually to build schools in these countries.
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 350 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and four other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; radio programs; films; books; videos and DVDs; maps; and interactive media. National Geographic has funded more than 8,000 scientific research projects and supports an education program combating geographic illiteracy. For more information, visit nationalgeographic.com.