Tuesday, February 07, 2006

'Lost world' found in Indonesia

Exciting news from The Washington Post:

Scientists exploring an isolated jungle in one of Indonesia's most remote provinces discovered dozens of new species of frogs, butterflies and plants _ as well as mammals hunted to near extinction elsewhere, members of the expedition said Tuesday.

The team also found wildlife that were remarkably unafraid of humans during its rapid survey of the Foja Mountains, an area in eastern Indonesia's Papua province with more than two million acres of old growth tropical forest, said Bruce Beehler, a co-leader of the monthlong trip.

Two Long-beaked Echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal, simply allowed scientists to pick them up and bring them back to their camp to be studied, he said.

The December expedition to Papua on the western side of New Guinea island was organized by the U.S.-based environmental organization Conservation International and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Papua, the scene of a decades-long separatist rebellion that has killed an estimated 100,000 people, is one of Indonesia's most remote provinces, geographically and politically, and access by foreigners is tightly restricted.

The 11-member team of U.S., Indonesian and Australian scientists needed six permits before they could legally fly by helicopter to an open, boggy lakebed surrounded by forests near the range's western summit.

The scientists said they discovered 20 frog species _ including a tiny microhylid frog less than a half inch long _ four new butterfly species and at least five new types of palms.

One of the most remarkable discoveries was the Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo, an arboreal jungle-dweller new for Indonesia and previously thought to have been hunted to near extinction, and a new honeyeater bird, which has a bright orange face-patch with a pendant wattle under each eye, Beehler said.

The scientists also took the first known photographs of Berlepsch's Six-wired Bird of Paradise, a bird described by hunters in New Guinea in the 19th century and named for the wires that extend from its head in place of a crest.

One of the reasons for the rain forest's isolation, Beehler said, was that only a few hundred people live in the region and game in the mountain's foothills is so abundant that they had no reason to venture into the jungle's interior.

There did not appear to be any immediate conservation threat to the area, which has the status of a wildlife sanctuary, he said.

"No logging permits are given to this area, there is no transport system _ not a single road," Beehler said.

"But clearly with time everything is a threat. In the next few decades there will be strong demands, especially if you think of the timber needs of nearby countries like China and Japan. They will be very hungry for logs."

It's amazing that discoveries like this are still being made today; it makes me think about how much more there must be that we don't yet know about. I just hope that this unique ecosystem will be treated better by humans than previously discovered ones have.

Bruce Beehler has published a
first-person account of the trip in The Independent, and the paper's main article has more details on the species his team found. The BBC has lots of pictures of the new discoveries. Conservation International's site is here; this seems to be the Indonesian Institute of Sciences' site, but it's in Indonesian only.


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