It’s called a ‘lost city’ because it’s buried beneath the almost impenetrable canopy of the rain forest of La Mosquitia in Honduras and Nicaragua. I’s called “The White City” or La Ciudad Blanca because the buildings and ruins that remain are made of gleaming white stone. It’s called “The City of the Monkey God” because a huge statue of a monkey god still presides of it. It’s believed to be cursed because its residents disappeared mysteriously in the 1500s out of fear of catastrophes caused by angry gods. As the cover of La Ciudad Blanca are slowly peeled back, it appears the curse had a reverse effect on animals. A team of scientists has discovered a sanctuary protecting hundreds of animal and plant species, many believed to be extinct to the area and some to the planet.
"What we found is extremely high biodiversity in the context of Central America, including many rare and threatened species as well as new country records."
In 2017, biologist Trond Larsen from environmental non-profit Conservation International in Virginia, led a Rapid Assessment Program expedition to La Ciudad Blanca, landing in the City of the Jaguar (Ciudad del Jaguar, which is obviously not lost) and then traveling to the White City with a heavily armed military escort in case they met up with drug traffickers – who are also not lost and unfortunately not extinct. Once they arrived, they began counting …. and counting … and counting some more. Their final tallies and assessments of the species are in a new report and an executive summary. In all, they counted 183 species of plants, 246 species of butterflies and moths, 198 bird species, 22 species of amphibians, 35 species of reptiles, 13 fish species, 41 small mammal species and 30 medium and large-sized mammalian species. (Photos of many of the species can be seen here and here.) That’s a lot of plants and animals for a rain forest that covers 865,000 acres (1351 sq miles) -- the largest contiguous forested area in Latin America north of the Amazon.
“There’s not many places left where we see a full community of species from the prey all the way up to the predators.”
Larsen and his team were excited to find that the community included predators and prey thought to be extinct, like the tiger beetle (Odontochila nicaraguense), the Pale-faced Bat (Phylloderma stenops) which has not been seen in Honduras in 75 years, the Great Green Macaw (which is endangered) and the critically endangered, like the Reinhardtia gracilis palm, which is critically endangered. At the other end of the spectrum, they found a fish (Poecilia sp.) which is possibly a new species.
"It is one of the few areas remaining in Central America where ecological and evolutionary processes remain intact."
The Rapid Assessment Program rapidly assessed that this is due primarily to the fact that La Mosquitia gets clean water from the City of the Jaguar’s ecosystem and the rainforest is much the same as it was in 1500 and not divided and conquered by loggers, developers, cattle ranchers, pollution and climate change.
Unfortunately, Larsen and his team know that humans (an we use this term loosely when referring to drug traffickers) have breached the area and now the news of the area’s biodiversity is out of the bag.
"All of this indicates that the area is an intact wilderness that needs to be preserved to maintain the integrity of ecological corridors across Central America."
Gee, that’s worked so well before, hasn’t it? Money talks and animals – no matter how rare they are – walk … if they’re not killed first. Honduras is one of the poorest countries on Earth, and Nicaragua is not far behind.
What the animals of the Lost City of the Monkey God need right now is the return of the lost curse of the Monkey God.