- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Scientists exploring an isolated jungle in one of Indonesia’s most remote provinces discovered dozens of new species of frogs, butterflies and plants — as well as mammals hunted to near-extinction elsewhere, members of the expedition said yesterday.

The team also found wildlife remarkably unafraid of humans during a rapid survey of the Foja Mountains, an area in eastern Indonesia’s Papua province with more than 2 million acres of old-growth tropical forest, said Bruce Beehler, a co-leader of the monthlong trip.

Two long-beaked echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal, simply allowed scientists to pick them up and bring them back to their camp to be studied, he said.

The December expedition to Papua on the western side of New Guinea island was organized by the U.S.-based environmental organization Conservation International and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

“There was not a single trail, no sign of civilization, no sign of even local communities ever having been there,” said Mr. Beehler, adding that two headmen from the Kwerba and Papasena tribes, the customary landowners of the Foja Mountains, accompanied the expedition.

“They were as astounded as we were at how isolated it was,” he said in a telephone interview from Washington. “As far as they knew, neither of their clans had ever been to the area.”

Papua, the scene of a decades-long separatist rebellion that has killed an estimated 100,000 people, is one of Indonesia’s most remote provinces, geographically and politically, and access by foreigners is tightly restricted.

The 11-member team of U.S., Indonesian and Australian scientists needed six permits before they could legally fly by helicopter to an open, boggy lakebed surrounded by forests near the range’s western summit.

The scientists said they discovered 20 frog species — including a tiny microhylid frog less than a half-inch long — four new butterfly species and at least five new types of palms.

One of the most remarkable discoveries was the golden-mantled tree kangaroo, an arboreal jungle dweller new for Indonesia and previously thought to have been hunted to near-extinction, and a new honeyeater bird, which has a bright orange face patch with a pendant wattle under each eye, Mr. Beehler said.

The scientists also took the first known photographs of Berlepsch’s six-wired bird of paradise, a bird described by hunters in New Guinea in the 19th century and named for the wires that extend from its head in place of a crest.

Their findings, however, will have to be published and then reviewed by peers before being officially classified as new species, a process that could take six months to several years.

Because of the rich diversity in the forest, the group rarely had to stray more than a few miles from their base camp.

“We’ve only scratched the surface,” said Mr. Beehler, vice president of Conservation International’s Melanesia Center for Biodiversity Conservation. He hopes to return later this year with other scientists.

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