Describing it as the discovery of a “Lost World,” conservation groups and Indonesia on Tuesday said an expedition to one of Asia’s most isolated jungles had found several dozen new species of frogs, butterflies, flowers and birds.
“It’s as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth,” Bruce Beehler, a Conservation International scientist who led the expedition, said in a statement.
“The first bird we saw at our camp was a new species,” he added. “Large mammals that have been hunted to near extinction elsewhere were here in abundance. We were able to simply pick up two Long-Beaked Echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal that is little known.”
The team of U.S., Indonesian and Australian scientists ventured into the Foja Mountains of Papua province last December. The remote area covers more than two million acres of old growth tropical forest.
“There was not a single trail, no sign of civilization, no sign of even local communities ever having been there,” said Beehler, adding that two headmen from the Kwerba and Papasena tribes, the customary landowners of the Foja Mountains, accompanied the expedition.
“They were as astounded as we were at how isolated it was,” he said from Washington, D.C. “As far as they knew, neither of their clans had ever been to the area.”
New bird, flower
Among the discoveries was a new species of the honeyeater bird. The first new bird discovered on New Guinea since 1939, it has a bright orange facepatch.
“Other discoveries included what may be the largest rhododendron flower on record — almost six inches across — along with more than 20 new frogs and four new butterflies,” Conservation International said.
The team captured the first photos of a male Berlepsch’s Six-Wired Bird of Paradise, named for the wiry strands that extend from its head in place of a crest.
“Amazed scientists watched as a male Berlepsch’s bird of paradise performed a mating dance for an attending female in the field camp,” Conservation International said. “This was the first time a live male of the species had been observed by Western scientists, and proved that the Foja Mountains was the species’ true home.”
The bird had been the focus of several earlier expeditions that failed to find its home.
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.
The scientists also found a tiny microhylid frog less than a half inch long and five new species of palm.
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.
No logging threat, for now
Beehler said 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.”
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.
Their findings, however, will have to be published and then reviewed by peers before being officially classified as new species, a process that could take six months to several years.
Because of the rich diversity in the forest, the group rarely had to stray more than a few miles from their base camp.
“We’ve only scratched the surface,” said Beehler, vice president of Conservation International’s Melanesia Center for Biodiversity Conservation. He said he hopes to return later this year with other scientists.