Scientists are exploring a hidden rainforest at the heart of a Mozambican volcano for the first time

Mount Lico, a mountain in northern Mozambique, has its relatively isolated cliff jutting out 700 meters (nearly 2,300 feet) above the plains of northern Mozambique. Yet for hundreds of years, while well-known locally, many were unaware that inside the ancient volcano lay a hidden rainforest, protected by the volcano’s high walls.

Discovered by conservation biologist Dr Julian Bayliss in 2012, the untouched biosphere is a gift for scientists. Mount Lico is the second undisturbed rainforest that scientists have found in Mozambique after Mount Mabu which Western scientists discovered using Google Earth in 2005.

Rainforests are the oldest living biomes on Earth and contain roughly half the known species of life. They also store more carbon for longer than any other living system. Some tropical rainforests date back to the dinosaur age, but virtually all show signs of past human activity. Several new species have been discovered in the Mount Mabu forest. Ironically, both Mount Lico and Mount Mabu were partly protected by the war, which slowed industrialization and migration to Mozambique’s north. The isolation of the rainforest, surrounded by savannah, makes it likely that it is host to many previously undiscovered species.

African forests that are unspoiled by logging and other human activity are rare. The untouched biosphere is a gift for scientists as the only disturbances it has experienced over centuries are natural, such as droughts, as opposed to man-made. And so it offers a benchmark that scientists can use to compare the full effect of human interference on rainforests.

Ana Gledis da Conceição Miranda, a Mozambican biologist, holds an as-yet unidentified mouse. Photograph: © Jeffrey Barbee/Allianceearth.org

For the first time, last month, scientists scaled the 125-meters up a near-vertical rock face to explore the undisturbed rainforest within. According to The Guardan, it took two years to assemble the 28-person dream team of biologists, logistical crew, plant experts, and researchers for the first expedition that took place last month, led by Bayliss. After only one expedition, scientists have already found a new species of butterfly and a mouse species that has yet to be classified, and expect to find more previously undiscovered animals.

Funded in part by Ranulph Fiennes’s Transglobe Expedition Trust, UK-based Biocensus, as well as the African Butterfly Research Institute, the project was an academic partnership between 13 universities, museums and research institutions on three continents.

Bayliss believes Lico could be one of the most pristine forests on Earth. Dr Phil Platts from the University of York was quoted saying to The Guardian; “This forest provides a unique insight into the effects of climate change on forests over time.”

There is a line-up of potential new species to be confirmed in the months to come, from snakes to frogs, toads, a snake-like amphibian called a caecilian, a shrew, a snub-nosed rodent, more butterflies, crabs and even a flowering plant.