New Species Found in Lost World of Indonesian New Guinea

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - "It's as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth," said an awed Bruce Beehler of Conservation International, co-leader of a team who found a "lost world" of new bird species, giant flowers, and rare animals that were unafraid of humans in the mountains of western New Guinea.

Beehler, vice president of Conservation International's Melanesia Center for Biodiversity Conservation, and a team of U.S., Indonesian, and Australian scientists spent a month in November and December in the pristine forested Foja Mountains in Indonesia's Papua province.

They discovered the first new bird found on the island of New Guinea since 1939 - an orange-faced honeyeater. The new species of honeyeater has a bright orange face patch with a pendant wattle under each eye.

"Large mammals that have been hunted to near extinction elsewhere were here in abundance," said Beehler. "We were able to simply pick up two long-beaked echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal that is little known."

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Fearless golden-mantled tree kangaroo fascinates mammal expert Kris Helgen in the team's Foja mountain camp. (Photo courtesy Conservation International (CI))
The scientists found a new large mammal for Indonesia - the golden-mantled tree kangaroo, Dendrolagus pulcherrimus, formerly known from only a single mountain in the neighboring country of Papua New Guinea.

Team member Dr. Johanis Mogea of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said discovery of the tree kangaroo was the most spectacular of all the team's finds as the species is believed to be on the brink of extinction.

"The discovery should be followed by more intensive and accurate research work," Mogea said.

During their month in the Foja mountains, the scientists found 20 new frog species, four new butterfly species and five forest palms previously unknown.

The team solved one major ornithological mystery the location of the homeland of Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, Parotia berlepschi. First described in the late 19th century through specimens collected by indigenous hunters from an unknown location on New Guinea, the species has been the focus of several subsequent expeditions that failed to find it.

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Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise as photographed by the Conservation International team. (Photo courtesy CI)
On the second day of the expedition, amazed scientists watched and photographed as a male Berlepsch's bird of paradise performed a mating dance for an attending female in the field camp. This was the first time a live male of the species had been observed by Western scientists, and proved that the Foja Mountains is the species' true home.

The expedition took place almost 25 years after Jared Diamond startled the scientific world in 1981 with his discovery of the forest homeland of the golden-fronted bowerbird in the same mountain range.

This time, scientists captured the first photographs ever of the golden-fronted bowerbird displaying at its bower a tower of twigs and other forest materials it builds for the mating ritual.

Other discoveries included what may be the largest rhododendron flower on record - almost six inches across.

Local Kwerba and Papasena people, customary landowners of the forest, welcomed the Conservation International team and served as guides and naturalists on the expedition into the vast rainforest. These people said that game was hunted in abundance within an hour's walk of the village.

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A golden-fronted bowerbird displaying at its bower (Photo courtesy CI)
Such abundance of food and other resources means the mountain range's interior more than 300,000 hectares of old growth tropical forest remains untouched by humans, and the entire Foja forest area of more than one million hectares (2.47 million acres) constitutes the largest pristine tropical forest in Asia and an important region for biodiversity conservation.

"Now, we the community and CI are like husband and wife," said Timotius Kawena, a local Papasena leader. "I would like CI to further their activities so that all of the [forest] can be better protected for our grandchildren."

But Togu Manurung of Forest Watch Indonesia fears that the newly found area could now be targeted by poachers. Previously unknown plants and animals could be worth big money on the international black market, and birds and mammals with no fear will be easy to catch, he told the AAP.

"The government has to make it a priority to protect the species that have just been found," Manurung said.

Conservation International and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences sponsored the expedition, with financial support from the Swift Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Global Environment Project Institute.