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Lost World of New Species Found in Jungle

Associated Press and Reuters, AOL Wire Services

(Feb. 7) - Scientists said on Tuesday they had 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 team of 11 U.S., Indonesian, and Australian scientists who made the discoveries during a monthlong expedition.

The team also found wildlife that were remarkably unafraid of humans during its survey, he said. The group visited the Foja Mountains, which have more than 2 million acres of old growth tropical forest located in eastern Indonesia's Papua province.

Indigenous people living near the Foja range, which rises to 7,218 feet, said they did not venture into the trackless area of 1,200 square miles -- roughly the size of Rhode Island.

The team of 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 scientists 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 over 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 4 inches long on the head of the male that it can raise and shake in courtship displays.

The scientists said they watched in amazement as, just one day after arriving, a male bird performed a courtship dance for an attending female in their camp, shaking the long feathers on its head.

They 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.

The team found a rare tree kangaroo, previously unsighted in Indonesia. Beehler said the naturalists thought there was likely to be a new species of kangaroo living in higher altitudes.

The team 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," Beehler 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. 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, Beehler said.

They watched in amazement as, just one day after arriving, a male bird performed a courtship dance for an attending female in their camp, shaking the long feathers on its head.

"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.

There did not appear to be any immediate conservation threat to the area, which has the status of a wildlife sanctuary, Beehler said.

"No logging permits are given to this area, there is no transport system -- not a single road," Beehler said.

"But clearly with time everything is a threat. In the next few decades there will be strong demands, especially if you think of the timber needs of nearby countries like China and Japan. They will be very hungry for logs."

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

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