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Survivorman Returns

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Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.

I'm a big fan of Les Stroud, better known as Survivorman. When his survival show first appeared on Discovery seven years ago, it was a breath of fresh air -- by shooting everything himself (he lugs all the gear with him; no crew), Stroud gave us a voice in the wilderness that was authentic, minimally produced, and very personal. Indeed, this is a show created by, written by, directed by, and starring Les Stroud. He even provides much of the music, and brings along his harmonica to play in the wilderness. So this is very much the vision of one man.

The initial run of Survivorman was three seasons, and they took a long time to produce. He spent a total of 170 days in the wilderness over a period of years. Stroud had to find some remote location, go there, survive, recuperate, edit the footage, and then repeat...dozens of times. It took roughly four years to put together the three seasons (a total of 23 shows), and it took a toll on Stroud -- each season's number of episodes declined, he was kinda beat-up from all that wilderness adventure, and he shot his last Survivorman episodes at the age of 47. He worked on various specials, spent more time with his family, focused on his music, and it was easy to assume from the fan's perspective that our Survivorman (in the sense of a guy going into the wilderness by himself with cameras) was retired.

Les Stroud - closeup
Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.

But now, at the age of 50, he's back -- surviving for ten-day stretches in two locations. Each location is split into two one-hour-long shows, so in a sense we have a fourth mini-season of Survivorman here. It's basically the same formula (though now the camera gear is fancier and the journeys are themselves longer), and Stroud is the same man -- though he's just a touch older and wiser. And that last comment is saying a lot; Stroud has been pretty damn wise for decades.

The new season (dubbed Survivorman Ten Days) is currently airing on Discovery, and is mid-way through its run. Check local listings for show times in your area -- the new episode airs tonight at 8pm Eastern/Pacific, with a mini-marathon of previous episodes leading up to it.

Here's a clip with footage from tonight's show, shot in Norway. In classic Survivorman style, Stroud finds a novel way to light a fire:

This new Survivorman run is great, largely because it retains everything that made the original series great: Les Stroud alone in the wilderness with a harmonica. Play on, brother.

Les Stroud in Norway
Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.

Blogger disclosure: I was not specially compensated for this review. I freaked out a little when I heard there were new episodes coming -- it's like Christmas came three months early.

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

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Rare Video Captures a White Giraffe and Her Baby in the Wild
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A towering, white giraffe looks like something that's stepped out of a fantasy book. But these creatures, while rare, are very real, and they've recently been sighted in Kenya.

As The Guardian reports, the snowy-white mother and child were filmed by conservationists in the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy in the eastern part of the country. After learning of the giraffes from nearby villagers, the Hirola Conservation Programme (HCP) went off in search of them with their cameras ready. HCP wrote in a blog post: "They were so close and extremely calm and seemed not disturbed by our presence. The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signaling the baby giraffe to hide behind the bushes—a characteristic of most wildlife mothers in the wild to prevent the predation of their young."

The condition that lends the creatures their pale coats isn't albinism but a genetic mutation called leucism. Animals with leucism have trouble producing pigments in their skin, fur, and feathers. (This doesn't affect soft tissue, which is why the giraffes' eyes are still dark.) Leucism can be observed in some selectively bred species, like peacocks and axolotls, but in wild giraffes, it's incredibly rare. According to HCP, this event marks one of only three known sightings of a white giraffe.

Reticulated giraffes of any coloring are scarce to begin with: There are an estimated 8500 specimens alive in the wild today. Fortunately the conservancy where the white giraffes were spotted has more than 75 square miles of land where they can roam safely.

[h/t The Guardian]


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