The True Story of Hunting Dinosaurs in the Sahara

National Geographic Live / Performances and Artists

Nizar Ibrahim examines a dinosaur skeleton


When Nizar Ibrahim recalls the adventures of his budding career as a paleontologist, they sound straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.

His mid-20s found Ibrahim as one of the youngest people to ever lead an excavation into the belly of the treacherous Sahara Desert, where he braved unpleasant working conditions like deadly temperatures, would-be kidnappers and no clues on where to start digging.

“It was really daunting. I thought, ‘The people I’m taking out there, it’s a big responsibility. I want to bring them back alive,’” Ibrahim remembers with a laugh.

But his passion would pay off, with Ibrahim uncovering the long-lost skeleton of the near-mythical Spinosaurus, the largest predatory dinosaur yet discovered.

“When we pieced it together, we realized it was far more bizarre of a creature than we ever could have imagined, a really incredible kind of dragon,” he says.

How did he do it?


Unearthing an Ancient World

While the title of Ibrahim’s presentation focuses on Spinosaurus, his discussion will go far beyond that.

He will dive into the hazards of his excavations in the Sahara Desert – once a thriving river system the length of the United States – and how he’s unearthed a bevy of animal fossils from an “ancient, lost world.”

“It was home not just to Spinosaurus, but lots of predators, like crocodiles as long as school busses, and car-sized predatory fish,” Ibrahim says. “I’ve described it as the most dangerous place in the history of the planet.”

During his talk, Ibrahim will show this ancient world with immersive, advanced CGI.

“There will be really breathtaking recreations of this lost world of Sahara dinosaurs,” he says. “People will get the opportunity to come face-to-face with some of these animals as they move around the big screen.”


Mr. Moustache, I Presume

Nizar likes to share the story of his dinosaur hunt in the Sahara because “it’s a unique mix of science, adventure, history, drama and detective story,” he says.

In fact, this detective story began not with searching for a dinosaur — but for a human.

Ibrahim’s interest in Spinosaurus was first sparked by mysterious fossils unearthed by a local fossil hunter in the Sahara.

“I realized I absolutely had to track down that guy,” Ibrahim recalls. “The problem was, I didn’t have his name or phone number or address. All I knew was that he had a moustache.”

If you’re curious to hear the full story of Ibrahim’s impossible mission to track down this obscure fossil hunter in the Sahara, “I will tell the whole story at the speaking engagement,” he vows.


Vital Information for Today’s World

Ibrahim considers it highly important for paleontologists to share their work with the world.

Especially with humans now living in an era of major biological changes.

“If we really want to understand how these things play out in the long-term, we have to look back in time,” he explains. “If you live in a world with no ice on the poles and high sea levels, what kind of planet is that? What kinds of animals live there?”

These discoveries also help explain what inhabits Earth today, he adds.

“The animals we’re excavating, they’re all little pieces of this grand, epic story which I think is the greatest story out there,” he says. “That’s the history of life on our planet.”


Nizar Ibrahim took the stage as part of the 2018-2019 National Geographic Live series.


Photo Credit: Nizar Ibrahim Spinosaurus