Mysteries and Frontiers

A research agenda for the unknown
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When we talk about cataloging biodiversity in under-surveyed areas, it is important to understand what the status of existing surveys are, and what the current scientific consensus is regarding the area. In this way, we have a baseline from which to expand our knowledge and target our research agendas. For the tepuis, the scientific consensus is that there are no larger or medium sized mammals present on the plateaus, and the few sightings of medium sized or larger lowland species are wandering invasive individual animals. 

It was continual anomalous sightings of lowland mammals on the summit which prompted both the 2014 expedition and the invention to Tepui Watch, to determine if this consensus was correct. From the evidence and data gathered from Tepui Watch since 2014, we now know that the reality of tepui summit biodiversity is very different from what was previously established in scientific literature.  The sightings of anomalous fauna on the summit turned out to be less of an anomaly and more of a cryptic biodiversity which was unrecorded for a variety of reasons, including the remote location of the tepuis and limited duration field expeditions. 

From our discoveries, more questions arose. Acknowledging that we have only surveyed a small accessible portion of Auyan with camera traps, the question of what else may be on Auyan remains open. Examination of scientific literature and personal accounts of explorers including Alexander Laime, (who spent time living on the summit) indicates that there are more species of lowland mammals present on the tepui, including jaguars and foxes, and possibly tapirs and deer. The positive trend in reptile discovery for the Guiana Shield implies that species of reptiles new to science may be present as well. New and possibly endemic species of insects and arachnids are almost certainly present, and require analysis by highly trained experts. For the animals species we have recorded, questions of ecology, interaction, and population size remain. The more we discover, the more we mysteries we encounter. Eventually, we hope to solve all these questions, resolve all anomalies, and develop a conservation agenda to preserve the unique tepuis of the Guiana Shield. But the work is just beginning...


Jaguars or big cats have been periodically reported on Auyan Tepui, and have been observed by the Venezuelan non profit Terramar in the late 1980s. Visual observations by seasoned scientists have been reported subsequently, but so far no photographic evidence has been obtained. In 2016, Biokryptos lead investigator Arturo Berti obtained the first trace evidence of big cats on Auyan around an area we call the Northern Lagoon, some two kilometers west of Angel Falls. The presence of big cats on Auyan would be a major discovery, and would indicate that the summit ecology is not only more diverse than previousl thought, but would hint at the presence of a larger herbivore as a source pf food for these cats.  

Cartography and connectivity

So far, Tepui Watch has surveyed locations from the talus slope up to the summit at Campo Lecho and Campo Dragon, and into unsurveyed areas near Angel Falls. It is important to remember that while these areas are all located on Auyan Tepui, they are separated by miles of dense jungle, swamps, and rocky outcroppings, representing extremely different ecosystems. One of the questions that we need to answer is the role of topography on species distribution on Auyan. While we know that lowland species are present on Auyan, their migration corridors to the summit remain unknown.  Equally, we need to know how local ecosystems effect species distribution on the tepui itself. We have been on Auyan for almost four years, and we have more mysteries than answers.