The Living Edens "TEPUIS" Behind The Scenes ...The STORY ..Page 13 of 13

The Making of the Tepuis Film : "The Living Edens : The Lost World"
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Oreophrynella quelchii
Oreophrynella quelchii

Strangely enough, the most exciting find for me was not one of the new species; but a small frog that was only previously known from a single specimen discovered by the first scientists who came to the south side of Roraima in 1898. It had not been seen for seventy three years until I stumbled across one close to the north ridge. Having found one, I searched for and finally collected three more. The frogs that I had found are closely related to the small black frog found on Roraima's summit. It's called Oreophrynella; it is even more ancient than the dinosaurs, and, curiously, it is more closely related to African species than any in South America. These frogs may have been here for many millions of years, since the time when the Tepuis were joined together as one massif. As a frog, it has certain primitive characteristics: it can neither hop nor swim, but it does have special adaptations that help it to survive on Roraima. It has opposable toes which help it cling to slippery rock surfaces; when it's cool, its black colour helps it to keep warm; and when it's hot, it finds shade or immerses its body in running water.

The interesting question for me was, if populations of this black frog managed to survive as the ancient sandstone massif broke up into isolated blocks, it should not be limited to Roraima. On subsequent expeditions, therefore, I made a point of searching for this frog on other tepuis, and, in 1974, I discovered it living on the summit of Auyantepui, far to the west of Roraima. Then, in 1981, I discovered it living on the summit of Kukenaam. Since then, it has been found by other investigators on two more tepuis: Tramen-tepui, an isolated fragment of Ilu-tepui, and Cerro El Sol, an isolated fragment of Auyantepui. I am sure, given time, it will be found on yet more of these plateaux. Each of these frogs comes from a common ancestor, but are now different enough from one another to be called species in their own right, so they must have been separated for a long time. The common ancestor, however, means that this frog is living proof that the tepuis were, long ago, joined together.

KUKENAAM from the north

There is still much that is waiting to be discovered on and around Venezuela's ancient tepuis. They are one of the last unknown frontiers of our planet, but, even now, we have only just begun to uncover their secrets. While it is comparatively easy for physically able tourists to spend a night or two on the summit of Roraima or Auyantepui, organizing a trip to spend enough time on the Tepuis to conduct any kind of exploration or survey, though, is not easy. They are remote, and the summits are bleak, cold and uncomfortable. Local people can be employed as porters to help carry sufficient equipment and food for a long stay, but they are unwilling to stay on the summits for long. The majority of the Tepuis remain unclimbed, and are out of range for helicopters unless one has a budget large enough to set up fuel dumps in advance. That, in itself, would a complex logistical exercise in such a remote place. If that's not enough, tackling the bureaucracy in Venezuela is itself a daunting challenge for those interested in exploring the area, and many serious academic expeditions have given up. But for those who succeed in reaching, and exploring, the magical Tepuis, extraordinary adventures, experiences, and perhaps new discoveries, are waiting on their mist enshrouded, elusive summits.

(Approx. 5,500 words)

© Adrian Warren, Last Refuge Ltd., September 2001

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Eversole Research Collection (ERC): The Life of James Crawford Angel:
Discoverer of the World's Tallest Waterfall — Angel Falls

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