February 7, 2006

“Lost world” found in Indonesian jungle

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Scientists said on Tuesday they had found
a "Lost World" in an Indonesian mountain jungle, home to dozens
of exotic new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants.

"It's as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to
find on Earth," said Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the U.S.,
Indonesian, and Australian expedition to part of the
cloud-shrouded Foja mountains in the west of New Guinea.

Indigenous peoples living near the Foja range, which rises
to 7,218 ft, said they did not venture into the trackless area
of 1,200 sq miles -- roughly the size of Luxembourg or the U.S.
state of Rhode Island.

The team of 25 scientists rode helicopters to boggy
clearings in the pristine zone.

"We just scratched the surface," Beehler told Reuters.
"Anyone who goes there will come back with a mystery."

The expedition found a new type of honeyeater bird with a
bright orange patch on its face, known only to local people and
the first new bird species documented on the island in over 60
years. They also found more than 20 new species of frog, four
new species of butterfly and plants including five new palms.

And they took the first photographs of "Berlepsch's
six-wired bird of paradise," which appears in 19th century
collections but whose home had previously been unknown.

The bird is named after six fine feathers about 4 inches
long on the head of the male which can be raised and shaken in
courtship displays.


The expedition also took the first photographs of a
Golden-fronted bowerbird in front of a bower made of sticks,
while he was hanging up blue forest berries to attract females.

It found a rare tree kangaroo, previously unsighted in
Indonesia. Beehler said the naturalists reckoned that there was
likely to be a new species of kangaroo living higher altitudes.

The scientists visited in the wet season, which limited the
numbers of flying insects. "Any expedition visiting in the dry
season would probably discover many more butterflies," he said.

Beehler, who works at Conservation International in
Washington, said the area was probably the largest pristine
tropical forest in Asia. Animals there were unafraid of humans.

"I suspect there are some areas like this in Africa, and am
sure that there are similar places in South America," he said.

Around the world, pristine areas are under increasing
threat from expanding human settlements and pollution. A U.N.
meeting in Brazil in March will seek ways to slow the currently
accelerating rate of extinctions.

Beehler said the Indonesian government was doing the right
thing by keeping the area off limits to most visitors --
including loggers and mineral prospectors.

The scientists cut two trails about 2.5 miles long, leaving
vast tracts still to be explored.