Wade Davis

Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society
Washington, DC, United States

About Wade


Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller which appeared in ten languages and was later released by Universal as a motion picture. His other books include Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest (1990), Shadows in the Sun (1993), Nomads of the Dawn (1995),One River (1996), The Clouded Leopard (1998), Rainforest (1998), Light at the Edge of the World (2001), The Lost Amazon (2004), Grand Canyon (2008), Book of Peoples of the World (ed. 2008), The Wayfinders (2009), The Sacred Headwaters (2011) and Into the Silence (2011). He is the recipient of numerous awards including: The David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration (2012), The Explorers Medal (2011), the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (2009), the 2002 Lowell Thomas Medal (The Explorer’s Club) and the 2002 Lannan Foundation $125,000 prize for literary non-fiction. In 2004 he was made an Honorary Member of the Explorer’s Club, one of twenty. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland.

A native of British Columbia, Davis, a licensed river guide, has worked as park ranger, forestry engineer, and conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published 195 scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian vodoun and Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American Indians. He has written for National Geographic, Newsweek, Outside, Harpers, Fortune, Men's Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Natural History, Scientific American, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and several other international publications. His photographs have appeared in some 20 books and 80 magazines, journals and newspapers, including National Geographic, Time, Outside and National Geographic Adventure. been widely published.

As a professional speaker for more than 25 years, Davis has lectured at the world's leading institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, the Royal Geographical Society and the Musée du Quai Branly, as well as some 200 universities, including Harvard, M.I.T,, Stanford, Oxford and Yale. His research has been the subject of some 900 media reports and interviews in Europe, North and South America and the Far East, and has inspired numerous documentary films.

Davis was the series creator, host and co-writer of Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour ethnographic documentary series, shot in Rapa Nui, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Nunuvut, Greenland, Mongolia, Australia, Colombia, Nepal and Peru, which aired in 165 countries on the National Geographic Channel. His many other film projects include the IMAX film, Grand Canyon Adventure, and the award winning documentaries, Spirit of the Mask, Peyote to LSD, Cry of the Forgotten People, and Earthguide, a 13 part television series on the environment, which aired on Discovery. When not in the field, Davis and his wife, Gail Percy, divide their time between Washington, DC and the Stikine Valley of northern British Columbia.

TED Conferences

TED2015, TED2014, TED2012, TED2008, TED2004, TED2003