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Mount Roraima — the lost world of Venezuela

Mount Roraima is a surprisingly mysterious, almost fantastic place located in the South-East of Venezuela. This is where Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana meet. Due to its unusual shape, this mountain has long been inaccessible to researchers, and its very existence has been questioned.

Roraima is one of several table mountains located in this region. These mountains are called tepui, after an Indian tribe that once lived in these parts. Table mountains have a flat surface and rise above the surrounding areas for several hundred meters, or even more.

Mount Roraima has an absolute height of 2,810 meters, and the area of the plateau at its top is about 30 square kilometers. It is composed of solid Sandstone and is part of the oldest plateau, the geological age of which is about 2 billion years. Today, this plateau is destroyed, and mount Roraima and several other similar table mountains are its surviving parts. On the flat top of the mountain there are many swamps, rivers and small lakes.

The existence of mount Roraima was known from the stories of the tepui Indians who lived in these parts. But the Europeans could not find it, lost in the Amazon jungle, so it was long considered an invention of the Indians.

One of the first travelers to reach mount Roraima in 1838 was Robert Schomburgk. And the first Europeans to reach the top of the mountain were the botanist Everard Im Turn and Harry Perkins. This happened in December 1884. For botanists, the mountain has become a real treasure trove. The fact is that the isolated territory of table mountain is home to many unique plants and animals that have long been without any contact with the outside world. There are quite a lot of endemic species found on Roraima and the neighboring table mountains. And two types of plants are found only on mount Roraima and do not grow anywhere else in the world.

On the top of Roraima and its slopes, 26 species of orchids grow, as well as a great variety of insectivorous plants, including helimamphora drooping and Dewdrop Roraima. These species are so widespread here because of the poverty of the local wetlands. Constant rains wash away nutrients from the soil, so the method of extracting minerals from insects is very popular among local plants. Despite the surrounding tropical landscapes, trees are extremely rare on the mountain itself. And the few species that are found here have a stunted and oppressed appearance.

Photo: the endemic species of mount Roraima — sundew Roraima
The animal world of mount Roraima is also very specific. It does not differ in biodiversity: the isolation of the mountain from the surrounding landscapes and the scarcity of vegetation affects it. But it is home to mice, amphibians, lizards, water pigs (capybaras), noses, and several species of birds. Interestingly, many of the insects and animals of mount Roraima are painted black. The fauna of this table mountain is also characterized by high degree of endemism. Here for example lives a relic amphibious geominera Quelch black, which can’t swim and jump.

Photo: the endemic species of mount Roraima amphibious geominera Quelch
This tropical region is highly cloudy, and mount Roraima is often shrouded in thick clouds of fog. Streams flowing down its steep slopes complement the mysterious image, and its photos serve as a source of inspiration for science fiction writers.

The famous writer Arthur Conan Doyle created his novel “the Lost world” under the impression of stories about Roraima. His friend Colonel Fossett made an expedition to the area of the table mountains and told the writer about the amazing world where plants and animals unknown to science were discovered.

In conclusion, I would like to add that Roraima is the most accessible, and therefore studied, table mountain in this region. Therefore, the table mountains of Venezuela can present the world with more than one type of new plants and animals.

 

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