A SWAT team of scientists, including Trond Larsen, discovered a lot of species that were thought to be extinct in a lost city in Honduras.
An ecological SWAT team of scientists discovered treasures from a lost city in Honduras. Yes, I know this sounds like the plot of a movie, but this is actually something that's happened, in real life. In 2017, the team traveled to the fabled “Lost City of the Monkey God” (also known as the “White City”) in Honduras, a recently discovered set of ancient ruins deep within the Central American country’s Mosquitia rainforest, to discover and conquer the unknown and they did not come back disappointed. According to Conservation International's blog, the team, including Trond Larsen, braved the unknown, to conduct a biological survey of the surrounding area.
CNN reports that this expedition led to the discovery that this site is home to a lot or rare species, including a tiger beetle, one that was only ever recorded in Nicaragua and believed to be extinct. The government of Honduras was keen on knowing what wildlife thrived in this undisturbed region as it was unexplored before and they were happy with the results from their extensive survey.
Overall, the team recorded 246 species of butterflies and moths, 30 bats, 57 amphibians and reptiles, alongside many plants, fish, mammals, and insects. Most of the flora and fauna on the list, as well as the insects and mammals, are rare and on the endangered list. Getting to the spot was an adventure in itself. "It's so exciting to get to visit places where literally there are so few ways to get there," said Trond Larsen, director of Conservation International's rapid assessment program.
"There are no roads, there's no logistical infrastructure to access, so you have to helicopter in. And when you do that, you end up visiting places where wildlife tends to be much more abundant." Larsen also mentioned that the animals and creatures that live there aren't really used to human interaction, so the time they spent there was really fruitful.
"Large groups of monkeys, for example, hang out and try to figure out what you are and what's going on, there's an opportunity to see tremendous amounts of wildlife," he says.
The explorer also highlights the beauty and serenity of the area. "There are big, old-growth trees that you often just don't see in places that are more impacted by people. So these massive trees that are hundreds or even thousands of years old, that is just overwhelming in size, it's amazing to see."
The whole survey was a thrill for Larsen, especially because spotting rare and endangered species was exciting for him. "The most exciting finds were probably the rediscoveries of these species that [were] thought to be extinct in Honduras for a long time," he said. He added he was most surprised to see the white-lipped peccaries - a species that are distantly related to pigs.
"They need such huge areas and move across wide landscapes to survive that we did not expect to find them there, but it was a really good indicator of this intact ecosystem," he says. Archeological excavations in the area are reportedly still ongoing. Larsen also spoke about the threats the ecosystem is facing. He said, " Probably the primary threat right now is the encroachment of illegal deforestation for cattle ranching."
"Even though many of these places lie in officially protected areas, it’s very difficult to enforce protection. And these are areas with no road networks, no logistics or infrastructure to let people get in or let guards in, so it’s very hard to stop what’s happening. In many cases, this illegal activity is being driven tangentially by drug trafficking, so it’s driven by powerful people with money. That’s the primary threat to the integrity of the forest of the area," he added.