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The hunt for the Black Charaxis

A journey into Mozambique's northern mountains reveals a new butterfly species.

The Black Charaxis butterfly, discovered on Mount Njesi in northern Mozambique. (Jeffrey Barbee/GlobalPost)

MOUNT NJESI, Mozambique — Don't look for the spot on any map. This 6,000 foot high plateau, a lush rainforest with towering hardwood trees in northern Mozambique, is one of the last places on earth that is unexplored and unmapped.

The 30-square-mile forest surrounding Mount Njesi and other peaks was located by scientists at Kew Gardens in Britain who studied Google Earth satellite photos (see map below) and identified an area of deep forest with no roads. Their research found no records of the area's exploration.

This misty tropical forest is now revealing its secrets to the scientists who are hiking its peaks and plateaus. A stunning array of new reptiles, birds and butterflies has been discovered, as well as a rare forest of mahoganies and other trees 147 feet high. Already this spot is being hailed as the largest area of indigenous medium-altitude forest remaining in southern Africa.

The isolated forest, more than 1,500 miles from Mozambique's capital, Maputo, is inaccessible by road. The remoteness has helped the trees and the rare flora and fauna to survive. The forest is revered as a refuge by local Mozambicans who retreated deep into the area to escape the country's long civil war in the 1980s. They helped the scientific team trek into the forest and up its mountain peaks.

The Darwin Initiative and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew mounted expeditions to examine the trees, animals and butterflies that make the mountain their home. Recent trips by the group explored nearby spots such as Mount Mabu.

The scientific team — consisting of a botanist, naturalist and the world's foremost African butterfly expert — are exploring the area and hope their initial research will lead to work with local Mozambican communities to conserve the rare forest.

More GlobalPost dispatches by Jeffrey Barbee:

Malawi's massive lake sustains country

Reviving Mozambique's crown jewel

Malawi's clinic offers hope to rural population

  
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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/africa/090419/the-hunt-the-black-charaxis