Bio diversity and the bio scientists who pursue knowledge of it

Gareth Davies

I have always had a high regard for scientists, but usually left them to their own devices, imagining them to be dressed in white coats hunched over crucibles of whatever that they were cooking slowly on the top of Bunsen burners!

No doubt, the scientists among us are already smiling. In any event, Sunday night I had occasion to tune into BC's Knowledge Network and caught the National Geographic Special.

Were my eyes ever opened as wide as saucers. Not just from the marvels of bio diversity, which the program was all about and not just from the sheer splendour of looking at and within a primeval rain forest with gigantic escarpments that gave Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, the inspiration to write his famous The Lost World in 1912.

What had opened my eyes was the sheer, unbelievable dedication of scientists and the risks they took in the pursuit of knowledge.

The program I am talking about aired on Sunday, February 25, 2007, at 7:05 PM. It was one of the National Geographic Specials on "Nature and the Environment" entitled Tepuis: Into the Lost World, which is about the plateaux of southeast Venezuela.

The program description reads:

    A look at the unique plateaus, or "tepuis" of southeastern Venezuela that were the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous adventure novel "The Lost World".

I do not know when the show will repeat, but it is sure to at some time in the future. More information can be obtained from the Knowledge Network Home Page at:


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Here is a brief account of the show:

The team that set out from the Venezualian coast walked for six days through dense forest filled with creatures the likes of which I had not thought possible. Birds of colour, parrots, gigantic spiders, snakes, scorpions and deadly mosquitoes. None of this deterred our team, which consisted of three bio scientists, two climbers, several path beaters and porters.

They arrive at a waterfall that has been tumbling down a stepped mountain for multi millennia, cutting a way through the dense forest. That was when they ran out of food and the chopper that was supposed to find them, couldn't.

Of course it did, eventually, and off they went to climb what are called mesas in the American Southwest, but what are called "tepuis" in Venezuala. They went after two of them, each of the order of some 2,500 metres in height (about 8,000 feet). The rock face was pure escarpment with lots of overhangs. One would be excused from thinking that they were absolutely impossible to climb.

The two tepuis were about 10 kilometres or so apart and according to the scientists had been actually one and the same some 1.6 billion years ago when all land was part of Gondwanaland. For a neat little thumbnail description of Gondwanaland, see:

The present separation of the two tepuis is, according to our scientists, due to continental drift and the scientists' aim was to determine the differences, if any, in the evolution of flora and fauna.

They were choppered up onto the first tepuis, while the two climbers scaled the "impossible" overhanging, crumbling escarpment on the other! Half way up the other was a sort of narrow ledge with vegetation and possibly creatures. The scientists wanted to visit the ledge second. It was impossible to chopper there because the ledge was too narrow, being only a metre or so wide in places, with a sheer drop of 1,200 metres for the unwary.

The scientists gathered specimens from the first tepuis and then climbed hand over hand up the second to the ledge! It didn't matter that most of the way was on a wide bamboo rope ladder, I don't think I could have gone up 12 metres, let alone 1,200. The final assault was by rope alone and they made it.

Understand, these scientists, two men and a woman, had NEVER climbed before in their lives! Then they had to sleep in triangular tents suspended from a single six inch mountain spike driven into the rock wall, with NOTHING beneath the tents but 1,200 metres of space!

Our intrepid lady scientist found herself alone in the tent with one of those gigantic spiders and had to be rescued in the dark. It is full of stuff like that. I think I would have jumped out of the tent!

They then descended after gathering specimens of flora and fauna and choppered to the top, some 2,500 metres above.

Under the guidance of the climbers, the older scientist and the woman scientist took it upon themselves to abseil down a gorge a hundred metres deep, having NEVER done that before, and were able to gather even more precious specimens.

At the end of the day they got what they had come for. Beautiful flowers, carniverous flowers, giant flowers. Tiny golden frogs, insects and other small creatures.

I have no idea of the findings of their work, which I suspect is ongoing. It does seem certain, however, that evolution is alive and well.

Earmark this program and keep your eye open for a repeat on Knowledge network, TVO or whatever local public broadcaster operates in your area. It is a must see.

Oh, yes. I forgot to mention the camera man. He did everything the scientists did, but with a huge camera on his shoulder!