Located near La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, is known as the “heart” of the Zongo Valley region. The high steep, rugged mountains form an array of well-preserved habitats, endowed with lush biodiversity.
It was amidst cloudy forests, researchers discovered “mountain fer-de-lance” vipers, “Bolivian flag snakes” and “Lilliputian frogs”, as well as spectacular orchid and butterfly species.
“[In Zongo] The sounds you hear are from nature – all kinds of insects, frogs and birds call, amazing loud noises and waterfalls. Everything is covered in thick layers of moss, orchids and ferns, ”Larsen told CNN.
“We did not expect to find so many new species and rediscover species that were thought to be endangered.”
The highly toxic mountain fer-de-lance viper has large pointed and heat-sensing pits on its head to help detect prey. Previously unknown to science, the viper has been found elsewhere in the Andes since the expedition, Larsen says.
The Bolivian flagged snake earned its name from its striking red, yellow and green colors, and was found in the highest waters of the mountain they surveyed.
Another discovery is, according to Larsen, one of the smallest amphibians in the world. The Liliputian frog, aptly named, is 1 centimeter short in length. With its camouflage brown color and a tendency to hide in thick layers of moss and clay, it is almost impossible.
Says Larsen, “We followed their voices in the woods but they calm down as soon as you reach them, so they are quite difficult to find.”
The Valley of Zongo varies in size, shape and color, with orchid flowers. The newly found edder’s mouth orchids have parts that cleverly mimic insects, helping them move pollen.
Although these discoveries are new to science, they are familiar to local indigenous communities. A newly discovered bamboo is used regularly by indigenous people for building materials and for making wind musical instruments.
Devil’s eye frog
With the new species identified, the team rediscovered four species thought to be extinct, including the mesmeric “devil-eyed frog”, which is black with deep red eyes. It was last seen 20 years ago, before a hydroelectric dam was built in its place of residence. After several attempts to find the frog, it was believed that this species no longer existed.
“Given that all these other campaigns failed, we didn’t think we would [find it] And when we discovered it, it was quite exciting, incredibly exciting, ”says Larsen.
The satirical butterfly, which was last seen 98 years ago, was rediscovered in the Zongo Valley Underground, caught in a food source trap of its rotten fruit.
Some of these animals cannot be found anywhere else in the world and Larsen says that most of the wildlife in the region are adapted to the effects of climate change. Many species are going to higher ground in search of cool conditions, passing through the forests leading to the mountains.
“As long as you don’t keep those corridors of the forest intact, those animals and plants have no way to move and no way to adjust to those changing conditions,” Larsen explains. “That’s why protecting places like Zongo is very important in the face of climate change.”
Apart from being a shelter for wildlife, this area is also important for the people living nearby. Local people are dependent on forests for construction materials, says Larsen, while Zongo supplies hydroelectricity and water to La Paz and beyond.
Conservation International says the findings make a case for the area’s safety and will help inform sustainable development plans for the area.
“The importance of protecting the Zongo Valley is more evident than ever,” La Paz Mayor Luis Revilla said in a statement. “As La Paz continues to grow, we will take care to conserve the surrounding natural resources that are very important for our well-being.”