Boldly going where no scientist had gone before, an expedition has found a biological treasure trove in a land essentially untouched by the presence of man.
A lost world teeming with previously unknown or presumed extinct wildlife that has remained untouched by humans and is as close to the Garden of Eden as is possible exists in the jungle-covered mountains of Indonesia’s Papua province, scientists say.
An international team of 13 experts, which spent a month surveying more than a million hectares in the Foja mountains in the Indonesian half of New Guinea island, said they had identified 40 new species and expected to record many more once they had completed their research.
Scientists regularly find new species but the team claims it is the unexplored aspect of the area, which rises to 2,200 metres (7,200 feet) above sea level, which makes it unique. “It’s an example of what the whole of New Guinea was like 50,000 years ago when there was no hunting, no impact of logging and no environmental desecration,” Stephen Richards, of the South Australian Museum and one of the team, said at the release of the findings in Jakarta. “There’re very few places left on earth where there has been so little human impact.”
“It’s as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth,” said Bruce Beehler, one of the team’s leaders.
Highlights include the first bird species discovered on New Guinea since 1939, a honeyeater with an orange face-patch and a golden-mantled tree kangaroo, thought to have been hunted to near extinction. The scientists took the first known photographs of Berlepsch’s six-wired bird of paradise, described by hunters in New Guinea in the 19th century, and the golden-fronted bowerbird conducting its mating ritual of building a metre-high bower.
Evidence of the lack of human presence was how many animals showed no fear of the researchers. Two long-beaked echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal, allowed scientists to pick them up and take them back to their camp to be studied.