New Guinea 'lost world' revealed
An expedition to one of Asia’s most isolated jungles, in the mist-shrouded Foya Mountains of western New Guinea (Irian Jaya), has discovered a host of new species, giant flowers, and rare wildlife.
The December 2005 expedition by a team of US, Indonesian, and Australian scientists led by Conservation International (CI) found dozens of new species including frogs, butterflies, plants, and what is thought to be the first new bird from the island of New Guinea in more than 60 years. "It’s as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth," marvelled CI's Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the expedition.
The new species of honeyeater, yet to be described, has a bright orange face-patch with a pendant wattle under each eye.
The team also managed to solve another ornithological mystery – the location of the range of the berlepschi form of Carola's Parotia Parotia carolae (sometimes treated as a separate species, Berlepsch’s Six-Wired Bird of Paradise). The team obtained the first ever photos of this spectacular Bird of Paradise.
The expedition also found a new large mammal for Indonesia – the Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo Dendrolagus pulcherrimus, formerly known from only a single mountain in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.
"This expedition highlights the wealth of little known and restricted-range species that occur in the Foya Mountains. Hopefully the region's inaccessibility will mean that this unique area escapes the pressures that are causing such massive habitat loss across so many of south-east Asia's montane rain forests." —Ali Stattersfield, Head of Science, BirdLife International
The scientists also captured the first ever photographs of the Golden-fronted Bowerbird Amblyornis flavifrons displaying at its bower – a tower of twigs and other forest materials it builds as part of its mating ritual. 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.
The mountain range’s interior – more than 300,000 hectares of old growth tropical forest – remains untouched by humans. Indeed, the entire Foya forest tract of more than 1 million hectares constitutes the largest essentially pristine tropical forest in Asia, forming part of BirdLife's North Papuan mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA). In recent decades a high proportion of newly-described birds have been found in EBAs, so although the discovery of a new bird species by the expedition is remarkable, it is not entirely unexpected. However, the wealth of new findings highlight the vital importance of EBAs for the conservation of global biodiversity.
Further expeditions to the area are planned by CI later in the year.