DQ Blog


As the epidemic of Ebola continues to ravage three West Africa countries, and to frighten people around the world, many scientific  questions about this disease and the ghastly microbe that causes it remain unanswered.  One of those is: What’s the reservoir host of Ebola virus, the creature in which it lives secretively over the long term?  Fabian Leendertz works on that question, and in December he published a preliminary study describing a new hypothesis.  Because I’m at work on a feature story about the reservoir question and Leendertz’s work, National Geographic asked me to write a brief post for its online news about the newly released study.

You can read that post here.

The full story, with text by me and photographs by Pete Muller, will appear in the July 2015 issue of National Geographic.

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(This post was written for the National Geographic website and can be found here.  At the same site, you can also read other posts from the 2013 Pristine Seas Expedition to Franz Josef Land.)

Five weeks is a long time to spend on a boat, even if it happens to be a vessel as comfortable as the Polaris, amid company as fascinating, various, congenial, and purposeful as the members of the 2013 Pristine Seas Expedition to Franz Josef Land.  Don’t remind me, please, that Charles Darwin was out for four years, nine months, and five days with the Beagle voyage, and that he slept on a hammock in a shared cabin so tiny he had to pull out a bureau drawer each night to make room for his feet.  Don’t tell me about the intrepid survivors of the whaling ship Essex, or the Bounty mutineers making their way to Tahiti, or that guy who soloed around the world in the Gypsy Moth.  Don’t tell me about Shackleton and the Endurance because, inspirational as it may be, that’s a South Pole story, half a world away from us up here in the far North.  Just trust me: Thirty-five days gets to be a longish time, bobbing around on the Arctic Ocean, especially after the wireless internet goes down, the freshwater rationing begins, and the vodka runs out.

The survey ship Polaris on the 2013 Pristine Seas Expedition to Franz Josef Land.

So we have devised some ways of coping.  We drink a lot of coffee and tea.  We share an endless supply of stories from previous adventures.  We edit photographs, by the hour, on our computers and phones.  We pose head-breaking riddles to the group, like that one about walking south a mile, east a mile, then north a mile and ending up exactly where you started.  (It works from the North Pole, yes, but where else?)  We take picnic lunches ashore, in the form of salami and cheese and brown bread, of which there seems to be no shortage, and eat them cheerily amid the rocks and the ice during pauses from the day’s walking and work.  When unable to go ashore,

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Horse named Chinook.  He's a black-and-white Paint, a gelding, owned by Rusty Black of Pendleton, Oregon.I've been living what feels like a Dream Vacation this summer: attending some of America's foremost rodeos.  In August it was the Omak Stampede in central Washington.  A week later I was at Crow Fair, in the town of Crow Agency, Montana.  Now I'm here, along with 15,000 exuberant rodeo fans, for the Pendleton Round-Up.   All the motels have been booked for months (I was lucky to get a room through the kindness of the Round-Up media folks), and downtown Pendleton looks like a cross between Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis, and a Resistol Hats sales conference in, um, northeastern Oregon.  During the day, people actually go watch the rodeo.  That finishes in late afternoon, to leave time for partying.  Everybody is friendly.  The odd things about this particular Dream Vacation are that 1) it's not my dream (it must be somebody else's, misdirected to me through some neuro-ethereal mix-up), and 2) it's not a vacation.  I'm on assignment for National Geographic, researching a story on the role of the horse in Native American cultures.

The reason for attending those particular three rodeos has not been to see the bull riding and calf roping and barrel racing, etc., or to raise my cholesterol level on a diet of curly fries and pulled pork.  The reason is that Omak, Crow Fair, and Pendleton all feature certain equestrian events that are uniquely embraced by Native American riders today.  In Omak, it's the Suicide Race (or, as its organizers prefer to bill it, the World Famous Suicide Race), details of which I'll leave to your imagination, at least for now.  At Crow Fair, and also here at Pendleton, it's the Indian Relay, a wonderfully frantic race that involves three fast circuits of the track, dead stops, leaping dismounts and re-mounts, and nothing so superfluous as a saddle.  Again, more on that later, maybe, in the magazine piece.  My purpose here is merely to share with you the image of one magnificent horse I was fortunate enough to meet during these travels.

His name is Chinook.  He's a black-and-white Paint,

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EBOLA: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus



SPILLOVER: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic



THE CHIMP AND THE RIVER: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest