Nestled on top of a volcano in Southeast Africa is a rainforest so hidden that experts think it has not been touched by a human being in modern times.
Mount Lico sits in the northern plains of Mozambique. The ancient volcano is a rock fortress rising up to nearly 2,300 feet high to protect a crater that is home to a pristine rainforest teeming full of flora and fauna that may be unique to the rest of the world.
Mount Lico Discovered On Google Earth
Conservation biologist Julian Bayliss of Oxford Brookes University first discovered the high-altitude rainforest six years ago. Bayliss found Mount Lico while perusing satellite images on Google Earth.
This makes Mount Lico the second undisturbed rainforest in the world that was discovered on Google's web mapping service. In 2005, Bayliss discovered Mount Mabu, an old-growth rainforest on top of a 5,500-long mountain range, also in Mozambique.
The expeditions into Mount Mabu have led Bayliss to discover several new species, including a reptile that is a cross between a lizard and a snake.
Rainforests are the oldest living systems on Earth. Some tropical rainforests date as far back as the Jurassic period, but virtually, none of them remains untouched by human hands. Around 50 percent of all species on Earth are found in rainforests.
Mount Lico Expedition
It took two years to assemble the 28-person team that ascended to Mount Lico's rainforest summit. The team consists of researchers bringing in their expertise from various fields, including botanists, biologists, and butterfly scientists from Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
A total of 13 universities and research institutions participated in the expedition, which was funded in part by the African Butterfly Research Institute, charity group Transglobe Expedition Trust, and ecological consultancy Bioconsensus.
Professional climbers were also enlisted. Jules Line, known throughout the climbing community as the Dark Horse for climbing solo without a rope, and Mike Robertson, the man who famously scaled Eiffel Tower with no equipment to protest against oil companies, trained the scientists to scale a 410-foot portion of the rock cliff.
"These scientists are bloody gritty and determined," says Robertson, "it's impressive."
Although the expedition was not bereft of medical emergencies, every single person in the team went up and down Mount Lico in one piece. The ascent was well worth it.
Astounding Discoveries On Mount Lico
Simon Wilcock, a lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales and his colleague, Phil Platts of the University of York, dug several feet into the soil to get to the bedrock of the rainforest.
The layers of soil can provide immense insight into the history of the rainforest. With the right equipment, scientists can ascertain things such as which plants grow in the area and how many fires the forest has seen.
Platts says that studying the rainforest can also offer researchers a unique glimpse at how climate change affects forests over time.
The researchers also expect to find a multitude of new species residing in the rainforest. Part of the long list of candidates includes several butterflies, frogs, a rodent with a short upturned nose, an amphibian that looks like a snake, a flowering plant, a crab, and even two fish.
Biologist Vanessa Muranga of the Natural History Museum at Mozambique has high hopes for a certain striped fish she collected from the rainforest's streams.
"We will make a DNA test after comparing it with the others in the museum's collection," Muranga says, "then we will know if it is a new species.
Also found were ancient ceramic pots half-buried near the stream, a surprising find that raises more questions than answers. According to the local community surrounding Mount Lico, no one has ever climbed the mountain as far as their memories and legends go.
How the pots came to rest on the mountaintop is a mystery, one of many that are bound to reveal themselves as researchers continue to explore the rainforest.