AboutZoos, Since 2008


New species and species thought extinct revealed in Hon­duras’ Leg­endary ‘Lost City of the Mon­key God’

pub­lished 05 July 2019 | mod­i­fied 05 July 2019

A team of sci­en­tists, led by Con­ser­va­tion International’s Rapid Assess­ment Pro­gram (RAP) in coor­di­na­tion with the Gov­ern­ment of Hon­duras, con­ducted a three-​week research expe­di­tion fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of ancient ruins at a site deep within the Mosquitia rain­for­est known as the ‘Lost City of the Mon­key God’ or the ‘White City.’

False tree coral snakeThe false tree coral snake (Rhi­noboth­ryum boval­lii), dis­cov­ered on the expe­di­tion, was believed to be extinct in Hon­duras since 1965. It spends a lot of time in the for­est canopy, mak­ing it a hard to find species that is depen­dent on old growth for­est.
Image: © Trond Larsen

The results of that sur­vey, pub­lished on 20 June, reveals the ancient set­tle­ment is encom­passed by a pris­tine, thriv­ing ecosys­tem teem­ing with rare and unique species, includ­ing new species and species once thought to be extinct.

The site, dubbed the ‘Lost City of the Mon­key God’, is the sub­ject of a movie and book by the same name and was hid­den for cen­turies within a remote val­ley, guarded on all sides by steep ridges, in one of the world’s dens­est jungles.

Sci­en­tists found an extra­or­di­nary ecosys­tem rich with wildlife and plants, including:

  • 22 species that have never before been recorded in Hon­duras, and many, such as the Great Green Macaw, which are endan­gered or extremely rare.

  • Three remark­able species rediscoveries:

    • The Pale-​faced Bat, which had not been reported in Hon­duras for more than 75 years,

    • The False Tree Coral Snake, which had not been reported in Hon­duras since 1965,

    • A tiger bee­tle, which had only ever been recorded in Nicaragua and was believed to be extinct.

  • A live­bear­ing poe­ciliid fish called a molly, which appears to be new to science.

  • A thriv­ing pop­u­la­tion of white-​lipped pec­ca­ries, a pig-​like species extremely sen­si­tive to defor­esta­tion and degra­da­tion, and which no longer found through­out much of Cen­tral Amer­ica because they require vast areas of intact for­est to survive.

  • 58 species of plants from the sur­vey have impor­tant uses by peo­ple, and species typ­i­cally were observed asso­ci­ated with pre-​Hispanic set­tle­ments of Mesoamer­ica, such as cacao and cacao de monte

  • A high abun­dance of pec­ca­ries and other prey species (indi­cat­ing low hunt­ing pres­sure) sup­port a com­plete com­mu­nity of car­ni­vores, includ­ing large cats such as jaguar and puma; few places remain that har­bour this full spec­trum of species where intact eco­log­i­cal links main­tain a healthy, bal­anced ecosystem.

  • In total, the team doc­u­mented 246 species of but­ter­flies and moths, 30 bats, 57 amphib­ians and rep­tiles, as well as numer­ous plants, fishes, mam­mals and insects.

Our team of sci­en­tists were shocked at the dis­cov­ery of tremen­dously rich bio­di­ver­sity, includ­ing many rare and threat­ened species. The ‘Lost City of the Mon­key God’ is one of the few areas remain­ing in Cen­tral Amer­ica where eco­log­i­cal and evo­lu­tion­ary processes remain intact.

Trond Larsen, Direc­tor of Con­ser­va­tion International’s Rapid Assess­ment Program.

Glass frogThe dis­cov­ery of this glass frog (Sachatamia albo­mac­u­lata) dur­ing the expe­di­tion rep­re­sents the first sci­en­tific record for the species for the Depart­ment of Gra­cias a Dios. Glass Frogs such as this species indi­cate the pris­tine water qual­ity and for­est health of the White City.
Image: © Trond Larsen

Over­all, our find­ings demon­strate that the area is of global envi­ron­men­tal as well as archae­o­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance,” Trond Larsen said. “Armed with this knowl­edge, stake­hold­ers can now begin to design and imple­ment con­ser­va­tion strate­gies to pro­tect this crit­i­cal ecosys­tem. One of the main rea­sons we found such high species rich­ness and abun­dance of threat­ened and wide-​ranging species (e.g., pec­ca­ries) is that the forests around the White City remain pris­tine, unlike much of the region. This makes the area a high con­ser­va­tion pri­or­ity for main­tain­ing the broader land­scape con­nec­tiv­ity that is essen­tial for the long-​term per­sis­tence of bio­di­ver­sity through Cen­tral America”

Dr. John Polisar, Coor­di­na­tor of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety Jaguar Pro­gram and a mem­ber of the RAP expe­di­tion team said, “We have been doing field work in the indige­nous ter­ri­to­ries of La Moski­tia for 14 years, and this site stood out as being sim­ply gor­geous. How­ever, what really made it leap out was its very com­plete assem­blage of native large mam­mals, some­thing becom­ing all too rare in these regions. Because of its presently intact forests and fauna the area is of excep­tion­ally high con­ser­va­tion value. It mer­its ener­getic and vig­i­lant pro­tec­tion so its beauty and wildlife per­sist into the future.”

In light of the arche­o­log­i­cal and sci­en­tific find­ings, Pres­i­dent Hernán­dez of Hon­duras ini­ti­ated the Kaha Kamasa Foun­da­tion to pro­mote ongo­ing sci­en­tific research and to increase mon­i­tor­ing and pro­tec­tion of the rain­for­est sur­round­ing the archae­o­log­i­cal sites at the ‘White City.’

(Source: Con­ser­va­tion Inter­na­tional press release, 20.06.2019)

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