(Cliquer sur les photos pour un meilleur effet !)
En 2005, des biologistes du Royal Botanic Gardens de Kew (sud de Londres) décèlent, sur Google Earth, un domaine forestier resté vierge, connu seulement des habitants proches. D’environ 80 kilomètres carrés, situé sur les contreforts du Mont Mabu, le site n’avait été ni cartographié, ni exploré. Trois ans plus tard, en novembre 2008, une équipe internationale de 28 scientifiques, dirigée par le botaniste Jonathan Timberlake, y découvre une faune et une flore luxuriantes, parmi lesquelles des caméléons nains, des oiseaux, des orchidées, et, parmi les 200 espèces de lépidoptères recencées, au moins trois nouvelles de rhopalocères.
Nous reproduisons ci-dessous le communiqué de presse du Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew) avec quelques photos proposéees par l’Office de Presse du RBG, la plupart prises par Julian Bayliss (qui le premier avait repéré la zone sur les images Google Earth). Le lecteur trouvera en fin d’article deux cartes Google Earth.
Scientists based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), funded by the Darwin Initiative, have led the first expedition to the previously unmapped Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique. The expedition is part of RBG Kew’s ongoing work with Mozambique’s government to identify priority areas for conservation in the face of rapid development.
Until just three years ago the vast area of forest was known only to villagers nearby. The team ‘found’ Mount Mabu after looking at Google Earth maps in 2005 while trying to finding a site for a conservation project, looking at land above 1,600m where higher rainfall means there is likely to be forest.
Locally-based conservationist Julian Bayliss investigated the unexpected patch of green and used satellite photos to identify a large, unexplored forest. Following a series of scoping trips, in October and November this year an international team of 28 scientists and support staff from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Belgium and Switzerland hiked into it.
Expedition leader, RBG Kew botanist Jonathan Timberlake said “The phenomenal diversity is just mind-boggling : seeing how things are adapted to little niches, to me this is the incredible thing. Even today we cannot say we know all of the world’s key areas for biodiversity – there are still new ones to discover.”
They found a wealth of wildlife including pygmy chamelons, Swynnerton’s robin, butterflies such as the Small Striped Swordtail and Emperor Swallowtail as well as three new species, a previously undiscovered species of adder and many exotic plants, including a rarely seen orchid. The team brought back over 500 plant specimens and are looking forward to finding out more about the species they collected.
Couple de Phalanta phalanta aethiopica DRURY, 1773, Mont Mabu. Photo : Julian Bayliss
Jonathan continues : “This is potentially the biggest area of medium-altitude forest I’m aware of in southern Africa, yet it was not on the map, and most Mozambicans would not have even recognised the name Mount Mabu. Kew is working with the Mozambique government to protect areas like Mount Mabu and encourage local people to value the forest for its wildlife. By conserving the plant life we can help secure a future for all the other creatures we saw there.”
RBG Kew is using its expertise and collections, coupled with Mozambique collections, to identify new species and areas of new interest for biodiversity. RBG Kew also works to build capacity with local partners to enable them to carry out similar work in the future.
The expedition was led by RBG Kew working with colleagues from the Mozambique Agronomic Research Insititute (IIAM), Birdlife International and the Mulanji Mountain conservation Trust (MMCT) in Malawi.
Outside the forest the country’s roads and buildings have been badly affected by a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1992, but inside scientists found the landscape was almost untouched. Ignorance of its existence, poor access and the forest’s value as a refuge for villagers during the fighting had combined to protect it.
With local people returning to the area, and Mozambique’s economy booming, there is a risk that this precious oasis of life will come under pressure as the forest is cut for wood or burnt to make space for crops.