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Scientific Expedition to Honduras’ Legendary “Lost City of the Monkey God” Uncovers New Species, Species Thought Extinct

June 20, 2019

An Ecological SWAT Team Finds a “Lost City” Now Serves as Refuge for Rare Wildlife

The results of that survey, published today, 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 we observed species typically 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 harbor 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 “White City” is one of the few areas remaining in Central America where ecological and evolutionary processes remain intact,” said Trond Larsen, Director of Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program.

“Overall, our findings demonstrate that the area is of global environmental as well as archaeological significance,” Larsen continued. “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.”

The RAP team was commissioned by Bill and Laurie Benenson, along with explorer Steve Elkins (who led the original search and discovery of the archaeological site) and the support of the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, to understand the area’s biodiversity and help the country’s government develop policies and strategies to protect it. Additional partners include the Government of Honduras, Washington State University, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zamorano University and National Autonomous University of Honduras.

In light of the archeological and scientific findings, President Hernández 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.”


About Conservation International

Conservation International uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature that people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about Conservation International, the groundbreaking “Nature Is Speaking” campaign and its series of virtual reality projects: “My Africa”, “Under the Canopy” and “Valen’s Reef.” Follow Conservation International’s work on our Human Nature blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.