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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

‘Garden of Eden’ found

SYDNEY: 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 2,200m, said they had 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 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 frogs, four new species of butterflies 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.

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.

Reuters & AP
Wednesday February 8, 2006

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