Investigative Journalist Bryan Christy Named National Geographic Explorer of the Year

Kilian Jornet, Enriqueta Velarde and Benezeth Mutayoba were also recognized at 2014 National Geographic Explorer Awards
Jun 13, 2014 12:45 PM ET
Investigative Journalist Bryan Christy Named National Geographic Explorer of the Year

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2014 /3BL Media/ - Four exceptional individuals were honored by the National Geographic Society Thursday night at the international nonprofit’s 2014 Explorer Awards, presented by Rolex. 

Investigative journalist Bryan Christy was named National Geographic Society’s Explorer of the Year in recognition of his extraordinary efforts to halt the global illegal ivory trade that threatens to decimate the world’s endangered elephant population. The Explorer of the Year award is given to a National Geographic explorer whose actions, achievements and spirit personify leadership in exploration and reflect a commitment to the Society’s mission to inspire people to care about the planet. Justin Hogbin, vice president and director of communications at Rolex USA, presented Christy with his award along with a commemorative Rolex Explorer ll timepiece.

Christy’s 2012 National Geographic magazine cover story “Ivory Worship” drew significant attention to the illegal ivory trade’s alarming impact and led to a groundswell of action around the world — from Vatican City to the Philippines. “Battle for the Elephants,” a subsequent National Geographic Television documentary featuring Christy, raised awareness to an unprecedented level. The U.S. Department of State asked to distribute copies of the film to embassies and consulates worldwide. In 2013, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) screened the documentary, and it was also shown at the launch of an elephant protection campaign championed by the first lady of Kenya.

In January 2014, officials in the Chinese province of Guangdong destroyed 6 tons of ivory, and in February 2014, the Obama administration announced a U.S. ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory. As a leading voice on this issue, Christy’s reporting continues to spotlight the direct correlation between the ivory trade and the tragic plight of elephants.

Before turning to journalism, Christy, who was also named a National Geographic Fellow this week, practiced international law in Washington, D.C. He studied at The Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University, The University of Michigan Law School and Tokyo University Graduate School for Law and Politics, where he was a Fulbright Scholar.

Also recognized at the award ceremony was Spanish ultrarunner Kilian Jornet, the 2014 National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. He was lauded for pioneering a hybrid sport that combines trail running and alpinism to break numerous speed records and redefine what is possible in the mountains. He also popularized “sky running,” which involves blazing up technical terrain such as glaciers, rock ridges and steep snowfields in competitions. Jornet was selected from a group of 13 adventure innovators whose extraordinary achievements in exploration, conservation, humanitarianism and adventure sports distinguished them in the past year. More than 75,000 online votes — the most ever — were cast on the National Geographic Adventure website. 

The Explorer Awards celebration also included the presentation of the 2014 National Geographic/Buffett Awards for Leadership in Conservation. This year’s winners were Mexican biologist Enriqueta Velarde for her 35-year effort to study and protect the seabirds of the Gulf of California’s Isla Rasa, and Tanzanian scientist and biologist Benezeth Mutayoba, who has dedicated his career to highlighting the plight of African elephants and drawing attention to the bushmeat crisis in Africa. Established through a gift from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation in 2002, the National Geographic/Buffett Awards of $25,000 each honor two unsung conservation heroes working in the field, one in Latin America and one in Africa.

“Those recognized tonight represent the world’s brightest and most innovative scientists, conservationists and explorers,” said Gary E. Knell, National Geographic’s president and chief executive officer. “At a time when so much about our planet is changing — and our need to understand and find solutions to global challenges is so urgent — the work of exploration and discovery is more important than ever. National Geographic is privileged to partner with these individuals and to share their remarkable stories with audiences worldwide.”

An all-star cast of explorers joined Knell, the evening’s master of ceremonies, at the inspirational event. The group included presenters Kenny Broad, environmental anthropologist and 2011 Explorer of the Year, and Cory Richards, climber, photographer and 2012 Adventurer of the Year.

Robert Ballard, a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence and Hubbard Medal recipient, joined the festivities via a taped message from the Caribbean on board his ship E/V Nautilus. Ballard and his Corps of Exploration are on a summerlong, interactive expedition in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea to map geological, biological, archaeological and chemical aspects of the region. More information on the expedition is available at

The presentation of this year’s National Geographic Explorer Awards was the culmination of the two-day National Geographic 2014 Explorers Symposium, an annual event at which National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, Fellows, Emerging Explorers, grantees and others affiliated with National Geographic gather to share findings of their research and fieldwork and take part in panel discussions. Each year, the new class of Emerging Explorers is presented during the Symposium.

About the National Geographic Society

Founded in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. With a mission to inspire people to care about the planet, the member-supported Society offers a community for members to get closer to explorers, connect with other members and help make a difference. The Society reaches more than 500 million people worldwide each month through its media platforms, products and events. National Geographic has funded more than 11,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit


NOTE: Images from the presentation of the National Geographic Explorer Awards are available at the ftp site:

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