New Orchids Found in Papua New Guinea Rainforest

GLAND, Switzerland, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - At least eight new species of orchid have been discovered in tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea, the international conservation group WWF announced today. The group is awaiting verifcation on as many as 20 other potentionally new orchids, which were found in previously unexplored parts of the Kikori region surrounding Lake Kutubu, an area internationally recognized as a biodiversity hotspot.

"The island of New Guinea is an incredible goldmine of orchids," says Wayne Harris, a botanist from Queensland Herbarium and one of the world's leading authorities on orchids. "There are over 3,000 known species found here with countless varieties undoubtedly yet to be discovered."


One of eight new orchid species recently discovered in WWF researchers. (Photo by Wayne Harris courtesy WWF)

The findings mark the culmination of a long-term WWF study of the species within the Kikori region. The expeditions, which took place between 1998 and 2006, have added significantly to the known floral diversity found on the island of New Guinea.

The region is one of the last areas in Papua New Guinea that includes a marked variety of different forest habitats. Along with orchid and other plant-life, the forests are home to a wealth of bird species, including birds of paradise and giant cassowaries, as well as rare fish, mammals and lizards.

Papua New Guinea already has more recorded orchid species than any other country in the world. The discoveries come amid evidence that the world continues to lose animal and plant species - including orchids.

Some 70 species of orchid that used to exist in the forests of neighboring Indonesia have become extinct because of illegal logging, said WWF forest ecologist Olo Gebia.


Papua New Guinea is renowned for its enormous variety of orchids. (Photo by Brent Stirton courtesy Getty Images / WWF-UK)

"The discovery of such a large number of new orchid species is incredibly exciting," Gebia said. "The sad reality is that many of these plants, including those which may contain cures to some of the world's most deadly diseases, may become extinct before they have even been discovered - this gives even greater urgency to ensuring the long-term conservation of the remarkable Kikori region."

The announcement comes just a week ahead of the official launch of two new Wildlife Management Areas, protecting significant areas of rainforest where these orchids have been found. The establishment of these Wildlife Management Areas is an important milestone in the program to strengthen the system of protected areas in PNG.

WWF, together with the Kutubu Joint Venture Partnership, is working towards the long-term conservation of the Kikori region and the remarkable diversity of plants and animals that it supports.

In addition to remarkable diversity in plant and animal species, the small island is also a center of cultural diversity. More than 20,000 people, from twelve different ethnic groups, live in the area and rely on the natural resources of its forests and streams for their subsistence livelihood.

The discovery of the new orchid comes in the wake of several other announcements of new species. Last week conservationist described a new bird found in northern Colombia. Last month researchers announced 52 new marine species had been found off the coast of the Indonesian island of Papua - a new bird was also found in northeastern India, the first new bird species found in that country in more than half a century.