‘ Who knows what we’ll find next ?’ Journey to the heart of Mozambique’s hidden forest
Since it was identified on Google Earth in 2005, the forest of Mount Mabu has amazed scientists with its unique wildlife. Jeffrey Barbee joins explorer Professor Julian Bayliss on the first trip-up to its green heart
The soggy boots of the team slide backwards in the black mud as they struggle up towards the ridge line dividing the forest edge from one of the last unexplored places on Earth.
The rain is an incessant bombardment of watery bullets firing down through the tree canopy. Thunder accidents. Tangles of vines and spider webs make for a Hollywood movie scene of truly impenetrable jungle.
Near the front of the 7 hikers is a Welshman carrying a billhook, a knapsack almost the same sizing as him, and what appears to all intents and purposes to be a briefcase. The slope is so steep that the heavy briefcase clatters against the ground at every step, so he swingings it in front of him clonk like a ship using an anchor to warp out of harbour against the green, horizontal tide. He takes two steps up and swingings the example up the hill again. Clonk.
On this wet March day in Mozambique, Professor Julian Bayliss, naturalist, explorer, fellow of the Royal Geographical and Royal Entomological societies, is heading deep into the green heart of the Mabu forest for the first time. The forest, also known as the Google forest after the style he detected it using Google Earth in 2005, has more recently been called the butterfly woodland, after the butterflies that congregate around the summit of Mount Mabu at certain times of year. Many of the species since identified here carry Baylisss name. These include Nadzikambia baylissi , the sleek little chameleon with the prehensile tail, and Cymothoe baylissi , the graceful forest gliding butterfly, both of which exist only here within the largest rainforest in southern Africa.
One other thing we have discovered on this trip, screams Bayliss, with a huge smiling over the sound of yet another downpour on another day on another seemingly unending hillside ascent, Mabu is not flat.
The scientific discovery of Mount Mabu was a huge breakthrough. Running with Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, the Mozambique governments institute for agricultural research( IIAM) and the Darwin Initiative, Bayliss was sitting at his laptop looking at Google Earth in 2005, when he wondered whether mountains in Mozambique might also harbour some of the species he was uncovering in nearby Malawi. So he and a Malawian botanist named Hassam Patel decided to take a look.
As reported by the Observer , over the years Bayliss and the Kew Gardens team have since identified three new species of serpent, eight species of butterfly, a bat, a crab, two chameleons and many plants, as well as a trove of rare birds that are critically endangered.
However , no one has in the past journeyed into the heart of the forest up to now. Previous discoveries came from the forest base camp, the peak and a small satellite camp, all on the lower eastern edge. To explore Mabus secrets further, an expedition has been undertaken this month by the international scientific and environmental reporting initiative Alliance Earth.
The Alliance Earth teams objectives were to create a 3D map, uncover new species, check on the health of the forest, publish an ethno-botanical study, seek out potential non-timber woodland products, render a feature documentary and film a 360 -degree virtual reality experience for museums and science centres around the world, so everyone can investigate the mountains mysteries.
This is a new species of Dipsadoboa, Bayliss tells, holding the poisonous tree snake with a twinge of obvious concern. As it writhes, he holds it farther away from his torso. This is currently undescribed, it doesnt have a name yet. Stretching out imploringly, the serpent tries to reach the perceived safety of my video camera. To find an actual new species of serpent is extremely exciting, and very rare. He has now found three new snakes in Mabus forest.
According to Bayliss, on this trip-up the team have identified at least one new butterfly species, and quite possibly more, once genetic testing confirms them. They have also procured a Caecilian, one of the rarest animals on Earth, which is sort of a cross between a reptile and amphibian, and may be a new type of its kind.
But these precious detects arent the only new discoveries that have him aroused. Under a huge tree he airs his wet boots, squeezing his socks dry before putting them on again. Yesterday was great. We discovered a new waterfall, which is fantastic. Weve never been here before, and because its the rainy season the water was simply crashing through the rocks.
More discoveries have come daily, such as the valley of giants, an open valley with a central created ridge surrounded by the largest grouping of big trees yet procured. Their vast trunks stretch upwards like a cathedral, blending into the green nave of foliages hundreds of metres above. These waterfalls, huge trees, deep valleys, and riverside camping spots are important geographical discoveries that Bayliss hopes will help bring tourists here.
At hours the forest guidebooks are clearly as perplexed about directions as the team, looping round in ever-widening circles in search of a route across the maze of folded valleys, often climbing up and down one punishing ridge after another in order to make headway.