|The Bible Hunters

People of many faiths venerate religious relics. But for those who believe that God speaks through words written down by prophets and apostles in past ages, ancient texts are foundational to their faith. From artfully adorned medieval manuscripts to humble fragments of papyrus, revered texts represent tangible links to God’s appointed messengers, whether Muhammad, Moses, or Jesus Christ. But conserving and digitally documenting these fragile texts before their secrets fade away is a daunting task. Multitudes of Biblical manuscripts are left to molder in academic storerooms or be consumed by fire, flood, insects, looters, or war in countries wracked by political upheaval, and textual scholars are in a race against time to save them.

In the cloak-and-dagger world where religion meets archeology, scientists, collectors, and schemers are racing to find sacred texts. Why all the fuss about old Bibles and older scraps of Egyptian papyrus? It boils down to this: Is faith based on fact or fiction?

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|Tree of Plenty

The oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis, is native to West and central Africa, and commercial plantations are now expanding in the region. They require only half as much land as other crops, such as soybeans, to generate a given amount of oil.

With its giant bunches of red fruit growing beneath unruly fronds, the oil palm is an ancient staple crop. For millennia humans have boiled and pounded its fruit to extract cooking oil, burned the seed-kernel shells for heat, and woven its leaves into everything from roofs to baskets. Over the past few decades, however, palm oil use has exploded. It is now the world’s most popular vegetable oil, accounting for one-third of global consumption. If a full-scale boom develops, it could encroach on crucial habitat for great apes, forest elephants, and other threatened species. Join now ›

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, workers at a mill move palm fruit from a steamer that has softened it up for pressing.


|Big Cats Pose a Big Problem for Sheep Ranchers

Scientists suspect that there are higher concentrations of pumas around southern Chile’s Torres del Paine than anywhere else. That’s mostly because pumas have plenty of prey (guanacos, hares), are protected in the park, and lack competition from other mammalian predators, such as wolves. For anyone bent on seeing this apex predator in the wild, Torres del Paine—more than half a million acres of granite peaks, grasslands, subarctic forests, and wind-whipped lakes—is the place to be. But protecting the big cats has come at a steep cost to Chile’s sheep ranchers. Is tourism the solution? Join now ›

This nearly full-grown female is an especially curious cat. She often approached photographer Ingo Arndt—in a nonthreatening manner—and once lay down to sleep just a few yards from him. Shortly after this portrait was taken, the cub was injured in a scuffle and lost sight in her right eye.


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