Lost world a new 'Eden'
Australian and other scientists have found a "Lost World" in a remote Indonesian mountain jungle, home to exotic new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants as well as mammals unafraid of humans despite being hunted to near extinction elsewhere.
"It's as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth," said Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the US, Indonesian and Australian expedition to part of the cloud-shrouded Foja mountains in the province of Papua that covers the western half of New Guinea.
Indigenous peoples living near the Foja range, which rises to 2,200 metres, said they have never ventured into the trackless area of 3,000 sq km.
The team of 25 scientists took helicopters to boggy clearings in the pristine zone.
"We just scratched the surface," Beehler said. "Anyone who goes there will come back with a mystery."
Two long-beaked echidnas, the egg-laying species similar to those found in Australia, simply allowed scientists to pick them up and bring them back to their camp to be studied, he said. The enigmatic animals were probably so unwary because they never had seen people before.
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 10cm 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.
The first photo of a Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, and, inset, Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the expedition.
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 in higher altitudes.
Papua, the scene of a decades-long separatist rebellion that has left an estimated 100,000 people dead, is one of Indonesia's most remote provinces, geographically and politically, and access by foreigners is tightly restricted.
The 11-member team needed six permits before they could legally fly by helicopter to an open, boggy lakebed surrounded by forests near the range's western summit, where they set up camp at an altitude of 1,500 metres.
"There was not a single trail, no sign of civilisation, no sign of even local communities ever having been there," said Beehler.
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 UN 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 4km long, leaving vast tracts still to be explored.
thats great. now put it on the discovery channel so i can see!