Endemics thrive on Timor-Leste's "Lost World" mountain
Surveys have confirmed that the finest montane forests in Timor-Leste, and possibly the whole island of Timor, are to be found on the inaccessible Mount Mundo Perdido – literally, "Lost World". With 22 of the restricted-range species of the Timor and Wetar Endemic Bird Area found so far, Mount Mundo Perdido has been recognised as Timor-Leste's seventeenth Important Bird Area (IBA).
The surveys were carried out by staff of Timor-Leste's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and Colin Trainor of Australia's Charles Darwin University, supported by BirdLife and the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative.
The upper slopes of Mount Mundo Perdido, rising to 1,760 m, have been protected from agriculture by their steep, rocky terrain. The 16,100 ha site also includes the 1,390 m Mount Laritame, 5 km to the north.
The IBA almost certainly hosts the largest populations of a suite of hill and montane bird species on Timor Island. Of the 22 endemics, one is globally threatened - the Endangered Timor Imperial-pigeon Ducula cineracea- and eight are Near Threatened, including Slaty Cuckoo-dove Turacoena modesta and Chestnut-backed Thrush Zoothera dohertyi. Small numbers of Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea are also present.
A total of 63 bird species have been recorded, including 61 presumed breeding residents, and two northern migrants. Eleven of the residents are montane forest specialists, and all appear to be abundant in the IBA.
Possibly the most exciting discovery was a population of Pygmy Blue-flycatcher Muscicapella hodgsoni on the upper slopes, 1,700 km or more from the nearest known populations in Kalimantan and Sumatra. The taxonomic status of this isolated population is being investigated.
"We now know that Mount Mundo Perdido is the richest tropical montane forest site remaining in Timor-Leste" —Manuel Mendes, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
Mount Mundo Perdido is also considered one of the three most important sites for conservation of orchids in Timor-Leste, and several new orchid species have been collected.
Although it has legal protected stratus dating back to the United Nations administration which preceded independence, the IBA is not managed as a Protected Area. But local people have responded positively to the idea of Protected Area management, which would, in line with the policy established in Timor Leste, be carried out in close consultation with the community.
Measures would include improved management of livestock, fairer and more sustainable access to forest products such as bamboo and rattan, reforestation of eroded areas, and a village forestry programme to supply timber from plantations, as an alternative to the current uncontrolled extraction of forest trees.
"The Government of Timor-Leste has shown it is committed to preserving our natural and cultural heritage through Protected Areas, by declaring our first National Park (Nino Konis Santana National Park) in 2008. We continue to work towards managing this area sustainably, while we also develop plans to manage 12 other Protected Areas including Mount Mundo Perdido, and to establish 18 new Protected Areas in the long term. All these are to be part of the new Protected Areas Network in Timor-Leste. Thanks to this work, we now know that Mount Mundo Perdido is the richest tropical montane forest site remaining in Timor-Leste", said Manuel Mendes, Director for Protected Areas and National Park, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.