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Wade Davis (anthropologist)

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Full Name
Wade Davis


Alma mater
Harvard University

Gail Percy




Wade Davis

Wade Davis (anthropologist) Wade Davis 39How I brought zombie poison into America

December 14, 1953 (age 70) (

Anthropologist, Ethnobotanist, author

Known for
The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Wayfinders, El Rio

The Serpent and the Rainbow, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, Light at the Edge of the World

Samuel Johnson Prize, Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction

The Serpent and the R, Into the Silence: The Great, One River, The Wayfinders: Why Anci, Passage of darkness

Similar People
Wes Craven, Greg MacGillivray, Richard Maxwell, Stefan Lessard, Eric Avery


Wade davis on humans

E. Wade Davis (born December 14, 1953) CM is a Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South America and particularly involving the traditional uses and beliefs associated with psychoactive plants. Davis came to prominence with his 1985 best-selling book The Serpent and the Rainbow about the zombies of Haiti. Davis is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia.


Davis has published articles in Outside, National Geographic, Fortune, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Wade Davis (anthropologist) WadeDavisPhotoCreditRyanHilljpg

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.” 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 Nunavut and Greenland.

Wade Davis (anthropologist) Wade Davis Department of Anthropology

Wade davis the wayfinders why ancient wisdom matters in a modern world

Early life, family and education

Davis was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

He holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his PhD in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University.

In 1974, at the age of 20, he crossed the Darien Gap on foot in the company of the English author and amateur explorer, Sebastian Snow.


Davis is not only an ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He is a licensed river guide and has worked as park ranger and a forestry engineer.

Anthropology and ethnobotany

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 6,000 botanical collections. He also conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada. 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 bestseller. The book was loosely used as the basis of a Wes Craven horror film, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).

Other books by Davis 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. His books have been translated into fourteen languages, including Basque, Serbian, Japanese and Malay.

He has published 180 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, Scientific American, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and numerous other international publications. Davis is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).


His photographs have appeared in some 20 books and more than 80 magazines, journals and newspapers, including National Geographic, Time, GEO, People, Men’s Journal, Outside, and National Geographic Adventure. They have been exhibited at the International Center of Photography (ICP), the Marsha Ralls Gallery (Washington, DC), the United Nations (Cultures on the Edge exhibition 2004), the Carpenter Center of Harvard University, and the Utama Center (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). Some of his images are part of the permanent collection of the U.S. State Department, Africa and Latin America Bureaus. Davis is the co-curator of The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and currently touring Latin America. A first collection of Davis’s photographs, Light at the Edge of the World, appeared in 2001 published by National Geographic Books, Bloomsbury and Douglas & McIntyre. A second collection was under contract for 2013 publication with Douglas & McIntyre as well.

Lectures and education

Davis’s research has inspired numerous documentary films as well as three episodes of the television series The X-Files. He has been lecturing since the 1990s at various institutions.

In late 2013, it was announced that Davis would join the University of British Columbia as a professor of anthropology in the summer of 2014.

Filmmaking and other media involvement

Davis was the series creator, host and co-writer of Light at the Edge of the World, a four-hour ethnographic documentary series, shot in Rapa Nui, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Nunavut, Greenland, Nepal and Peru, which aired in 165 countries on the National Geographic Channel and in the USA on Smithsonian Networks.

He is featured in the MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, released in the spring of 2008. Other television credits include the award winning documentaries Spirit of the Mask, Cry of the Forgotten People, Forests Forever, and Earthguide, a 13-part television series on the environment which aired on the Discovery Channel in 1990. His four-hour series with National Geographic, Ancient Voices/Modern World, was shot in Australia, Mongolia, and Colombia. It has been broadcast worldwide on the National Geographic Channel as part of the second season of Light at the Edge of the World.

Advisory work

An Honorary Research Associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden, he is a Fellow of the Linnean Society, Fellow of the Explorer's Club, and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Davis was a founding board member of the David Suzuki Foundation and completed a six-year term on the board of the Banff Centre, a Canadian institution for the arts. He has served on the Board of Directors since 2009 for the Amazon Conservation Association, whose mission is to conserve the biological diversity of the Amazon. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures, Canada’s most prestigious public intellectual forum.

He is a member of the International Advisory Board, Hunt Consolidated, PLNG, and has also been engaged in Journey to Zero, a three-year campaign sponsored by Nissan and TBWA to support zero emission vehicles.

Criticisms of work in Haiti

In 1983, Davis first advanced his hypothesis that tetrodotoxin (TTX) poisoning could explain the existence of Haitian zombies. This idea has been controversial and his 1985 follow up book (The Serpent and the Rainbow) elaborating upon this claim has been criticized for a number of scientific inaccuracies. One of these is the suggestion that Haitian witchdoctors can keep “zombies” in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years. As part of his Haitian investigations, Davis commissioned the exhumation of a recently buried child. (Dead human tissue is supposed to be a part of the “zombie powder” used by witchdoctors to produce zombies.) This has been criticized in the professional literature as a breach of ethics.

The strictly scientific criticism of Davis’s zombie project has focused on the claims about the chemical composition of the “zombie powder”. Several samples of the powder were analyzed for TTX levels by experts in 1986. They reported that only “insignificant traces of tetrodotoxin [were found] in the samples of ‘zombie powder’ which were supplied for analysis by Davis” and that “it can be concluded that the widely circulated claim in the lay press to the effect that tetrodotoxin is the causal agent in the initial zombification process is without factual foundation”. Davis’s claims were subsequently defended by other scientists doing further analyses and these findings were criticized in turn for poor methodology and technique by the original skeptics. Aside from the question of whether or not “zombie powder” contains significant amounts of TTX, the underlying concept of “tetrodotoxin zombification” has also been questioned more directly on a physiological basis. TTX, which blocks sodium channels on the neural membrane, produces numbness, slurred speech, and possibly paralysis or even respiratory failure and death in severe cases. As an isolated pharmacological agent, it is not known to produce the trance-like or “mental slave” state typical of the zombies of Haitian mythology, or of Davis’s descriptions.

Personal life

Davis is married. He and his wife Gail Percy have lived in several places, sometimes with concurrent residences in Washington, DC, Vancouver, the Stikine Valley of northern British Columbia and Bowen Island near Vancouver. They have two adult daughters, Tara and Raina.

Awards and accolades

  • 2002: Lowell Thomas Medal (The Explorers Club)
  • 2002: Lannan Foundation $125,000 prize for literary non-fiction
  • 2003: Honorary Degree (Doctorate of Sciences) from University of Victoria
  • 2004: Honorary Member of The Explorers Club, one of twenty
  • 2008: Honorary Degree, University of Guelph
  • 2009: Gold Medal of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
  • 2009: Speaker for the Massey Lectures, for his publication, The Wayfinders
  • 2011: The Explorers Medal — the highest award of The Explorers Club
  • 2010: Honorary Degree, Colorado College
  • 2010: Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of Northern British Columbia
  • 2012: David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration, considered the most prestigious prize for botanical exploration.
  • 2012: Samuel Johnson Prize, winner, Into the Silence
  • 2012: Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, shortlist, Into the Silence
  • 2012: Governor General's Literary Award, shortlist, Into the Silence
  • 2012: Banff Mountain Book Festival, Mountain & Wilderness Literature, finalist, Into the Silence
  • 2015: Order of Canada with the grade of member
  • As author

  • Davis, Wade (1985). The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-50247-6. 
  • 1997 edition retitled: The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's<</ref> Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies, and Magic.
  • Davis, Wade (1988). Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie. Robert F. Thompson, Richard E. Schultes. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1776-7. 
  • Davis, Wade and Thom Henley (1990), Penan Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest, Western Canada Wilderness.
  • Davis, Wade (1991), The Art of Shamanic Healing, Cross Cultural Shamanism Network.
  • Davis, Wade (1996). One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80886-2. 
  • Davis, Wade (1998). Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire. ISBN 1-55963-354-9.  (Published in Canada as The Clouded Leopard: A Book of Travels, Douglas & McIntyre, 1998.)
  • Davis, Wade (2001). Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures. National Geographic. ISBN 0-7922-6474-6. 
  • Davis, Wade (2009). The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Toronto: Anansi Press. ISBN 0-88784-766-8. 
  • Davis, Wade (2009). Grand Canyon: River at Risk. San Rafael, CA: Earth Aware Editions. ISBN 1-60109-013-7. 
  • Davis, Wade (2011). Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-37540-889-4. 
  • Davis, Wade (2012). River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1-61091-361-2. 
  • Davis, Wade (2015). Los guardianes de la sabiduría ancestral. Su importancia en el mundo moderno. Medellín, Colombia: Sílaba Editores. ISBN 978-958-8794-65-5. 
  • Photography books

  • Davis, Wade, Ian MacKenzie, and Shane Kennedy (1995), Nomads of the Dawn: The Penan of the Borneo Rain Forest.
  • Osborne, Graham (Photographs) and Wade Davis (Text) (1998), Rainforest: Ancient Realm of the Pacific Northwest White River Junction, Vermont, Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
  • Davis, Wade (2004), The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, Chronicle Books (Intro by Andrew Weil).
  • As editor

  • Davis, Wade and K. David Harrison (2008) Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures, National Geographic, (2nd edition).
  • Video

  • Earthguide (1991). Cinetel Productions for the Discovery Channel. 13-part documentary on environmental issues. Davis was host and co-writer.
  • "The Spirit of the Mask" (1992). Produced by Gryphon Productions. 1992. Davis was host and co-writer. 1 hour documentary.
  • "Cry of the Forgotten Land" (1993). 1 hour documentary on the Moi people of West Papua, New Guinea. Davis was narrator/co-writer
  • “The Explorer” Life and Times (2002). Produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) DVD by Monarch Films. 1 hour biographical documentary.
  • "Grand Canyon: River at Risk" (2008). 3D IMAX, MacGillivray Freeman Films. Davis was principal character.
  • Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (2008). Produced in collaboration with Gryphon Productions. Filmed on location in New Mexico, Oaxaca, and lowland Ecuador. Two-hour special for the History Channel based Davis's books One River (1996) and The Lost Amazon (2004). DVD available, A&E Television Network. Davis was host/co-writer/co-producer.
  • Light at the Edge of the World: Science of the Mind. Directed by Andrew Gregg, produced by Davis and Andrew Gregg for National Geographic.
  • Media

  • Davis's research into “Haitian Zombies” was explored in an episode of Science Channel's Dark Matters: Twisted But True.
  • Davis's research into “Haitian Zombies” was mentioned in an episode of CUNY TV's Science Goes to the Movies.
  • Davis's research into “Haitian Zombies” was referenced in the X Files episode "Fresh Bones".
  • References

    Wade Davis (anthropologist) Wikipedia

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