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'Lost world' found in jungle


REUTERS

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) -- Scientists say they have found a "Lost World" in an Indonesian mountain jungle, home to dozens of exotic new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants.

"It's as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth," said Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the U.S., Indonesian, and Australian expedition to part of the cloud-shrouded Foja mountains in the west of New Guinea.

Indigenous peoples living near the Foja range, which rises to 2,200 meters (7,218 feet), said they did not venture into the trackless area of 3,000 square kilometers (1,200 square miles) -- roughly the size of Luxembourg or the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

The team of 25 scientists rode helicopters to boggy clearings in the pristine zone.

"We just scratched the surface," Beehler told Reuters. "Anyone who goes there will come back with a mystery."

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 more than 60 years.

They also found more than 20 new species of frog, four new species of butterfly 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 four inches (10 centimeters) long on the head of the male which can be raised and shaken in courtship displays.

'Animals not afraid'

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 higher altitudes.

The scientists visited in the wet season, which limited the numbers of flying insects.

"Any expedition visiting in the dry season would probably discover many more butterflies," he said.

Beehler, who works at Conservation International in Washington, said the area was probably the largest pristine tropical forest in Asia. Animals there were unafraid of humans.

"I suspect there are some areas like this in Africa, and am sure that there are similar places in South America," he said.

Around the world, pristine areas are under increasing threat from expanding human settlements and pollution. A U.N. meeting in Brazil in March will seek ways to slow the accelerating rate of extinctions.

Beehler said the Indonesian government was doing the right thing by keeping the area off limits to most visitors -- including loggers and mineral prospectors.

The scientists cut two trails about four kilometers (2.5 miles) long, leaving vast tracts still to be explored.

© 2006 CNN

posted: 2/7/2006

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