Here's more of the story ...
Scientists hail discovery of hundreds of new species in remote New
By Terry Kirby, Chief Reporter
Published: 07 February 2006
An astonishing mist-shrouded "lost world" of previously unknown and
rare animals and plants high in the mountain rainforests of New Guinea
has been uncovered by an international team of scientists.
Among the new species of birds, frogs, butterflies and palms discovered
in the expedition through this pristine environment, untouched by man,
was the spectacular Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise. The
scientists are the first outsiders to see it. They could only reach the
remote mountainous area by helicopter, which they described it as akin
to finding a "Garden of Eden".
In a jungle camp site, surrounded by giant flowers and unknown plants,
the researchers watched rare bowerbirds perform elaborate courtship
rituals. The surrounding forest was full of strange mammals, such as
tree kangaroos and spiny anteaters, which appeared totally unafraid,
suggesting no previous contact with humans.
Bruce Beehler, of the American group Conservation International, who
led the month-long expedition last November and December, said: "It is
as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth. We
found dozens, if not hundreds, of new species in what is probably the
most pristine ecosystem in the whole Asian-Pacific region. There were
so many new things it was almost overwhelming. And we have only
scratched the surface of what is there." The scientists hope to return
The area, about 300,000 hectares, lies on the upper slopes of the Foja
Mountains, in the easternmost and least explored province of western
New Guinea, which is part of Indonesia. The discoveries by the team
from Conservation International and the Indonesian Institute of
Sciences will enhance the island's reputation as one of the most
biodiverse on earth. The mountainous terrain has caused hundreds of
distinct species to evolve, often specific to small areas.
The Foja Mountains, which reach heights of 2,200 metres, have not been
colonised by local tribes, which live closer to sea level. Game is
abundant close to villages, so there is little incentive for hunters to
penetrate up the slopes. A further 750,000 hectares of ancient forest
is also only lightly visited.
One previous scientific trip has been made to the uplands - the
evolutionary biologist and ornithologist Professor Jared Diamond
visited 25 years ago - but last year's mission was the first full
The first discovery made by the team, within hours of arrival, was of a
bizarre, red-faced, wattled honeyeater that proved to be the first new
species of bird discovered in New Guinea - which has a higher number of
bird species for its size than anywhere else in the world - since 1939.
The scientists also found the rare golden-fronted bowerbird, first
identified from skins in 1825. Although Professor Diamond located their
homeland in 1981, the expedition was able to photograph the bird in its
metre-high "maypole" dance grounds, which the birds construct to
attract mates. Male bowerbirds, believed to be the most highly evolved
of all birds, build large and extravagant nests to attract females.
The most remarkable find was of a creature called Berlepsch's six-wired
bird of paradise, named after the six spines on the top of its head,
and thought "lost" to science. It had been previously identified only
from the feathers of dead birds.
Dr Beehler, an expert on birds of paradise, which only live in northern
Australia and New Guinea, said: "It was very exciting, when two of
these birds, a male and a female, which no one has seen alive before
... came into the camp and the male displayed its plumage to the female
in full view of the scientists."
Scientists also found more than 20 new species of frogs, four new
butterflies, five new species of palm and many other plants yet to be
classified, including what may be the world's largest rhododendron
flower. Botanists on the team said many plants were completely unlike
anything they had encountered before.
Tree kangaroos, which are endangered elsewhere in New Guinea, were
numerous and the team found one species entirely new to the island. The
golden-mantled tree kangaroo is considered the most beautiful but also
the rarest of the jungle-dwelling marsupials. There were also other
marsupials, such as wallabies and mammals that have been hunted almost
to extinction elsewhere. And a rare spiny anteater, the long beaked
echidna, about which little is known, allowed itself to be picked up by
hand. Dr Beehler said: "What was amazing was the lack of wariness of
all the animals. In the wild, all species tend to be shy of humans, but
that is learnt behaviour because they have encountered mankind. In Foja
they did not appear to mind our presence at all.
"This is a place with no roads or trails and never, so far as we know,
visited by man ... This proves there are still places to be discovered
that man has not touched."
Inhabitants of New Guinea
The scientists discovered a new species - the red faced, wattled
honeyeater - and found the breeding grounds of two birds of almost
mythical status - the golden- fronted bowerbird and Berlepsch's
six-wired bird of paradise, long believed to have disappeared as a
separate species. The expedition also came across exotic giant-crowned
pigeons and giant cassowaries - a huge flightless bird - which are
among more than 225 species which breed in the area, including 13
species of birds of paradise. One scientist said that the dawn chorus
was the most fantastic he had ever heard.
Forty species of mammals were recorded. Six species of tree kangeroos,
rare elsewhere in New Guinea, were abundant and the scientists also
found a species which is new to Indonesia, the golden-mantled tree
kangeroo. The rare and almost unknown long-beaked echidna, or spiny
anteater, a member of a primitive group of egg-laying mammals called
monotremes, was also encountered. Like all the mammals found in the
area, it was completely unafraid of humans and could be easily picked
up, suggesting its previous contact with man was negligible.
A total area of about one million hectares of pristine, ancient,
tropical, humid forest containing at least 550 plants species, many
previously unknown and including five new species of palms. One of the
most spectacular discoveries was a so far unidentified species of
rhododendron, which has a white scented flower almost six inches
across, equalling the largest recorded rhododendron flower.
Entomologists among the scientists identified more than 150 different
species of butterfly, including four completely new species and several
new sub-species, some of which are related to the common English
"cabbage white" butterfly. Other butterflies observed included the rare
giant birdwing, which is the world's largest butterfly, with a wingspan
that stretches up to seven inches.
The Foja is one of the richest sites for frogs in the entire
Asia-Pacific region, and the team identified 60 separate species,
including 20 previously unknown to science, one of which is only 14mm
big. Among their discoveries were healthy populations of the rare and
little-known lace-eyed frog and a new population of another frog, the
Xenorhina arboricola, which had previously only been known to exist in
Papua New Guinea.
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