The African Serengeti in Northern Tanzania is a prime example of an ecosystem that has not been altered by humans. Covering about 12,000 sq miles, the protected Serengeti has remained an ecologically intact ecosystem for more than 500 years. Not long ago, with the help of satellite imagery and drones, another ecologically intact ecosystem was discovered in Africa by Julian Bayliss. Rather than the vast rolling plains landscape of the Serengeti, Julian discovered a dense, hidden forest.
A Conservation Biologist, Julian has been traveling back and forth from the UK and Africa on biological expeditions since the 90’s. In 2012 he was working on exploring an isolated mountain in Malawi. Looking at maps, Julian saw that there were similarly isolated mountains over the border in Mozambique, an area unexplored due to contentious political conditions. Upon returning to England, Julian used Google Earth to locate a mountain he was familiar with, then panned towards Mozambique. Through the satellite images, he saw the shape of a mountain emerge with a dark green patch atop it. He immediately recognized the possibility of what could be an unexplored forest atop the mountain.
In 2018, Julian traveled to Mozambique and spoke with locals to gather any information on the mountain, Mount Lico. As far as anyone could remember, no ancestors had ever ventured up Mount Lico, only hunting at the foot of the mountain. After receiving permission from local chiefs, Julian and a team of hunters as guides, and other scientists, approached the 2,300 ft high sheer rock walls of Mount Lico. Ultimately, Julian wanted to scale the mountain and explore the forest at its apex. But, before even attempting the dangerous climb, he needed a better understanding of what lay ahead.
For this Julian turned to drone technology to get an up close view of Mount Lico while he remained safely on the ground. Julian began to fly the drone up the mountain, amazed and excited at the images he was seeing through the drone’s camera. As the drone reached the top, it dipped into a crater and out of Julian’s visual line of sight. The warning lights on the drone’s controller began to flash, and Julian feared the drone was lost and he would have to come up with a new plan. Luckily, drone technology had progressed enough by this time that the drone was able to follow its path back to Julian. After replacing the battery, Julian sent the drone back up to create a map to plan his ascension of the mountain.
After an arduous climb, Julian was the first to make it to the top of Mount Lico. Looking around, Julian said he was filled with an “immense sense of wonder and excitement”. Over the next 2 weeks, Julian and his team explored the forest, discovering several new species of mammals and reptiles. Particularly exciting for Julian was the discovery of a distinctly new butterfly. Julian’s identification of Mount Lico as an ecologically intact ecosystem proves that there is still plenty to be discovered on planet Earth. As a Conservation Biologist, Julian said that he and his colleagues are always asking questions. “As soon as you think you have the answers, then new questions, new doors open. That’s the beauty of life.” With technology like drones and satellites, scientists like Julian have the tools needed to keep asking and answering questions.