The Tepui

Letter from Mark Moffett
December 8, 2006

I recently returned from Venezuela where I am planning an expedition for early next year, when the great Venezuelan explorer Charles Brewer and I enter for the first time the three enormous caves that Charles has just discovered. These caves are in a remote and pristine habitat of untouched waterfalls and little-seen tribal peoples. They remained undiscovered for so long because they lie hidden within the labyrinth of tepuis - the immense, flat-topped mountains made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his book, The Lost World.


"Tepui, seen from a distance, with their vertical sides.
Is it any wonder it took so long for anyone to ascend them?"

Charles is the greatest living jungle explorer, having been the first to climb the tepuis. Though he did not find dinosaurs there, he did discover thousands of new species. He was also first to contact the Yanomami Indians. He introduced then to Napoleon Chagnon, who, with Charles' continued guidance, made these "fierce people" a cornerstone of anthropology.


"Here is a cave much smaller than the ones I'm talking
about. I challenge you to see the two helicopters, which have
landed near the puddle (actually a lake)."

The three caves to be explored next year follow upon the first survey of another cave, located by Charles, with the largest entrance of any cave ever recorded (over 100 meters in diameter). In that cave Charles discovered an entirely new life form: a colonial bacterium that builds silica (glass) structures. We expect to find more bizarre organisms in the new caves and we will undoubtedly find new species of plants and animals in the surrounding forests. Charles is planning also to survey one of the world's largest meteorites, which he found in 2005 near a cave.


"The strange glass structures made by
newly discovered microbes within the
caves, a completely new form of life."

Charles and I are very pleased to work with EMF to gather a team of intrepid and brilliant artists, environmental sound experts, videographers, and composers. The team would join this expedition in order to produce performance pieces about the environment, the trip, and its discoveries.

Having done my doctorate under the great conservationist E.O. Wilson, I believe that ecologists need to turn to the arts to more effectively express their environmental messages. Exploring this idea is our motivation for this letter. With the right talent involved, we see no reason that the results of such a collaboration couldn't be produced at major venues and attract attention. My own images, about 500 of which have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, could, for example, be a part of the final mix. With his beguiling voice, Charles is a great storyteller with amazing true-life stories to tell, and recordings of him would be another excellent contribution.

As you know last month I received the highest award in exploration, the Lowell Thomas Medal from the Explorers Club and Rolex, previously given to Buzz Aldrin, Louis Leakey, E.O. Wilson, Jaques Cousteau, Carl Sagan, Sir Edmund Hillary and a few others. The honor has led me to reflect on the fact that modern ecologists may have reached a limit on how effectively they can convey messages to the public, and they may now need to draw upon the emotional vibrancy offered by the arts. This expedition offers an important opportunity for scientists and artists to go together in this new direction.

© 2006