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Wade Davis has been described as "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's diversity."
An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, he 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 more than three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 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 that 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), 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), and One River (1996), which was nominated for the 1997 Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction. Into the Silence, an epic history of World War I and the early British efforts to summit Everest, was published in October, 2011. Sheets of Distant Rain will follow.
Davis is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2002 Lowell Thomas Medal (The Explorers Club) and the 2002 Lannan Foundation prize for literary nonfiction. In 2004 he was made an honorary member of the Explorers Club, one of just 20 in the hundred-year history of the club. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the high Arctic of Nunavut and Greenland.
A native of British Columbia, Davis, a licensed river guide, has worked as park ranger and forestry engineer and conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published 150 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.
Davis has written for National Geographic, Newsweek, Premiere, Outside, Omni, Harpers, Fortune, Men's Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Natural History, Utne Reader, National Geographic Traveler, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, and several other international publications.
His photographs have been featured in a number of exhibits and have been widely published, appearing in some 20 books and more than 80 magazines, journals, and newspapers. His research has been the subject of more than 700 media reports and interviews in Europe, North and South America, and the Far East, and has inspired numerous documentary films as well as three episodes of the television series The X Files.
A professional speaker for nearly 20 years, Davis has lectured at the National Geographic Society, American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and California Academy of Sciences, as well as many other museums and some 200 universities, including Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Yale, and Stanford. He has spoken at the Aspen Institute, Bohemian Grove, Young President’s Organization, and TED Conference. His corporate clients have included Microsoft, Shell, Hallmark, Bank of Nova Scotia, MacKenzie Financials, Healthcare Association of Southern California, National Science Teachers Association, and many others.
An honorary research associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden, he is a fellow of the Linnean Society, the Explorers Club, and the Royal Geographical Society. Davis is also a board member of the David Suzuki Foundation. He recently completed a six-year term on the board of the Banff Centre, Canada’s leading institution for the arts. He has received two honorary doctorates, from the University of Victoria in 2003 and the University of Guelph in 2008. In 2009 he delivered the Massey lectures, Canada’s most prestigious public intellectual forum.
Davis's television credits include Earthguide, Spirit of the Mask, Cry of the Forgotten People, and Forests Forever. He produced, wrote, and hosted Light at the Edge of the World, a four-hour ethnographic documentary series shot in Rapanui, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Nunavut, Greenland, Nepal, and Peru. He is host, co-writer, and co-producer of Peyote to LSD, a social history of the psychedelic movement. Davis is a principal character in the MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film Grand Canyon Adventure, also released in the spring of 2008. He is currently working on a new four-hour series of films for the National Geographic Channel to be filmed in Colombia, Japan, Australia, and Mongolia.
When not in the field, Davis and his wife, Gail Percy, divide their time between Washington, D.C., and a fishing lodge in the Stikine Valley of northern British Columbia. They have two children.