Treasure Hunting with Sue Hendrickson
Sue Hendrickson’s life has gone to the dogs.
The explorer, famed for discovering a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, lives a quiet life in Guanaja, a Bay Island of Honduras that is home to fewer than 6,000 people.
Eighteen years ago, she started a veterinary clinic where she cares for cats, horses, pigs, parrots and more than 70 dogs. She is hoping to get most of the dogs adopted and sometimes travels to the United States with them to facilitate the process.
In 2005, Sue was honored with the WINGS WorldQuest Women of Discovery Award for her commitment to exploration. For decades she has traveled in pursuit of the world’s greatest treasurers – from prehistoric fossils to sunken shipwrecks and ancient cities.
In 1990, while traveling through South Dakota, Sue’s exploration team went into town to fix a flat tire. Sue set off with her dog Gypsy to explore a sandstone cliff off in the distance. There she discovered a complete T. rex skeleton, the largest and best-preserved that had ever been found.
The discovery was the subject of Dinosaur 13, a documentary that traces the ensuing custody battle over the skeleton, because it had been found on private property. The T. Rex, now residing in Chicago’s Field Museum, was named Sue after its discoverer.
“I still go looking for dinosaurs,” Sue told WINGS. “It’s the best way to disconnect. That or go under water.”
The story of how Sue the T. rex was found is featured in a new children’s book called When Sue Found Sue.
She continues to work with the underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio on shipwreck excavations and has plans to look for whale fossils in Peru and dinosaur bones in the western U.S. later this year.
In between expeditions, she has a number of projects in Guanaja that she spends much of her time on.
One of her first projects was to clean up a local canal that had been used as a garbage dump.
She also started the first turtle watch on the island, in order to track Hawksbill sea turtles and document their nests. She and her team patrol the beaches at night and measure, photograph and count the eggs that the sea turtles lay.
She also coordinates with the Navy on a survey count of the yellow-naped Amazon parrot. A particular subspecies of the parrot can only be found in the Bay Islands. The birds are at risk because sometimes people rob babies from the nests in order to sell them.
She is working to have Guanaja designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in order to prevent too much tourism and overdevelopment, such as what has happened on other nearby islands.
She funds her projects by selling conch shell pearls in Japan and Hong Kong. It’s the only work she’s done that has made her money, she said.
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve made almost nothing,” she said. “But I’ve had the best life.”