National Geographic Explorers

Stories from around the world educate us, expose us to new cultures, tell us what makes us human and show us where we can make a difference. Join us for explorations and stories that span the world, from the Himalayas to your own backyard, and topics that range from bee biology to political boundaries. Light snacks will be served.

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021
Sturm Family Auditorium, Denver Botanic Gardens, Freyer – Newman Center 
6-8 p.m.
$7, $5 member
Scholarships are available. If cost to attend is prohibitive, please contact

Get Tickets to A Night with National Geographic Explorers




Brian Buma

The last tree on earth: The world’s southernmost tree, forest, and explorations on the wild islands of Cape Horn, Chile

The world has a lot of trees, but this one is unique. The southernmost tree in the world. The last lone individual. Nothing beyond it but the wild and deadly Drake Passage and Antarctica. Finding the world’s last tree – a signpost for climate change, a science communication tool, and a unique ecological community – was an adventure that melded historical research with satellite imaging and simple, on the ground sweat and effort. Buma tells the story of exploration on the island, the expedition and what the southernmost trees in the world can teach us about global change.

Bio: Brian Buma is an interdisciplinary ecologist, explorer and writer who works at the intersection of climate change, natural disasters and the movement of species around the world. Brian has led research and expeditions around the world, from the far north to the southern tip of North America, including find the world’s southernmost tree and forest and re-establishing what is now the longest running ecological observation study in the world, in Glacier Bay, Alaska. He is a National Geographic Explorer, Fulbright Specialist, and a Fellow with the Explorer’s Club.


Robbie Hart

Botany at the heights – tracking the effects of climate change on Himalayan plants and people

The greater Himalayan region is famed as a hotspot of species diversity: its steep mountains and deep gorges foster great richness of species, including many found nowhere else. Hart shares results from an international collaborative effort to monitor climate change on Himalayan mountaintops and to track its effects on this unique set of plant species and environments and on the local people who rely on them for medicines, pastures and sacred spaces.

Bio: Robbie Hart is a scientist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, where he directs the William L. Brown Center, a team of researchers dedicated to the study of useful plants, understanding the relationships between humans, plants and their environment, the conservation of plant species, and the preservation of traditional knowledge for the benefit of future generations. His own research is on high-elevation plant ecology, climate change, and ethnobotany, which often leads him up mountains in the alpine zone. He is a National Geographic Explorer and a fellow of the Explorer’s Club.


Rebecca Theobald

Know your Resources

How well do you know your state? One way to consider conservation is the prevention of wasteful use of resources. If you are not familiar with the resources available in your community, whether you define that as the neighborhood, region, province, country, world, then conservation becomes more challenging. Explore National Geographic's Giant Map of Colorado and investigate the water, forests, minerals, crops and animals throughout the state.

Bio: Rebecca Theobald is Assistant Research Professor in the Geography and Environmental Studies Department at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She directs GeoCivics, asking geographic questions to address redistricting, emphasizing the role geospatial technology plays in drawing electoral districts. She has been interested in the intersection of geography and education since living in Memphis and observing inequality of resources available at neighborhood schools. As an expatriate in Brussels, she explored that country’s approach to education, enabling families’ choice between French- and Flemish-speaking schools.  From 2008 through 2018, she served as coordinator of the Colorado Geographic Alliance, part of National Geographic's Network of Alliances for Geographic Education, providing professional development for teachers across the state, managing grants from the National Geographic Society Education Foundation, National Center for Research in Geography Education, and Esri, Inc. She has served as editor of the National Council for Geographic Education’s journal, “The Geography Teacher”, since 2016. Theobald earned doctoral and masters’ degrees in geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Middlebury College. She is a member of the American Association of Geographers and the National Council for Geographic Education, and a fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar.

Melanie Kirby

Flying High with the Bees – Beekeeping in the Intermountain region through a place and purpose-based breeding program to support mindful management and biodiversity

Bees are part of the fabric of the continent. Hear about the historical integration of honey bees into the Americas, and how genetics, environment and stewardship work in tandem to support pollinator health and productivity. This presentation will share several theories of honey bee origins, the diverse subspecies and ecotypes of honey bees and the historical integration of honey bees into the Americas. Kirby will explain the relationship that develops between their genetics, diverse environments, and their adaptive plasticity to acclimate to a variety of landscapes. This presentation will also share how cultural stewardship works in tandem to support pollinator health, productivity and biodiversity. 

Bio: Melanie Kirby first began keeping bees as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer 25 years ago. She has since learned from bees and their keepers around the globe from the coasts to the deserts to the prairies to the mountains. Melanie established Zia Queenbees in northern New Mexico in 2005 which specializes in selecting and breeding honey bees that are regionally acclimated. Her efforts include collaborations with beekeepers and ecologists in various regions. Melanie was a 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow based in Spain where she was initiating research into the native Iberian honey bee (Apis mellifera iberiensis) and evaluating mating behavior utilizing radio frequency identification devices (RFID) to investigate shifting climate effects. She is a researcher, writer, artist and also serves as the Extension Educator for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM where she combines Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with western sustainable agriculture science.

Cat Jaffee

The Power to Protect: the collaborations and controversies of sacred site conservation in the Okavango River Basin

There is one significant question beneath many of the world’s most pressing headlines; haunting us as we face a global climate crisis, underlying many geopolitical conflicts.

How do we protect a home? Is it even possible? Utopian? Patronizing? Neo-colonial? An answer is emerging from a place seemingly frozen in time by a ring of landmines and a 40-year civil conflict. That place is called Lisima Iya Mwono, or "The Source of Life." It is a network of hard-to-access lakes which feed the major freshwater rivers of Southern Africa, culminating in the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls. For nearly 50 years, the region has been mostly inaccessible to international organizations, conservation movements and tourism. But as the region opens up, indigenous community faces new decisions and choices on how to reconnect with a world that poses both environmental threats and new opportunities for their home.

From 2019 to 2021, the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project and House of Pod recorded an award-winning podcast directed and produced by a team from Angola, Botswana, the U.S. and the Okavango Delta to understand the history of conservation and colonialism in the region, and how communities look to sacred site conservation as an path forward to grow community livelihoods and and environmental protections. In this presentation, we'll go behind the scenes of how the team produced the show and what we learned.

Bio: Cat Jaffee is a Fulbright Scholar, a National Geographic Explorer and an advocate of storytelling that positions historically underrepresented voices at the heart of directing and producing media. She wrote and recorded Guardians of the River, which won Best Non-Fiction Podcast at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, and was selected as a finalist for best podcast at the Jackson Wild Film Festival. Jaffee has produced, supervised and contributed to over 20 podcasts with her production company House of Pod with partners like the National Geographic Wilderness Project, PRX, Gimlet, PBS, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and History Colorado. She is on the board of Amped, and a driving force behind Colorado’s annual From the Margins to the Center podcast incubator for producers of color. Cat is a young adult cancer thriver, and while undergoing treatment, trained for her very first ultra cycling event, the 2021 Silk Road Mountain Race.

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