Interviews: Bruce Beehler's Lost World

Bruce Beehler studies a female Berlepschi's six-wired bird of paradise i i

Bruce Beehler studies a female Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise (Parotia berlepschi) found in the Foja Mountains of the Papua Province of Indonesia. Stephen Richards hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Richards
Bruce Beehler studies a female Berlepschi's six-wired bird of paradise

Bruce Beehler studies a female Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise (Parotia berlepschi) found in the Foja Mountains of the Papua Province of Indonesia.

Stephen Richards
The Foja Mountains on the island of New Guinea i i

The Foja Mountains on the island of New Guinea are host to a dazzling variety of new and rare animal species. Conservation International hide caption

itoggle caption Conservation International
The Foja Mountains on the island of New Guinea

The Foja Mountains on the island of New Guinea are host to a dazzling variety of new and rare animal species.

Conservation International
The forest camp for the November-December 2005 expedition i i

There were few luxuries in the forest camp for the November-December 2005 expedition of the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Program. Stephen Richards hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Richards
The forest camp for the November-December 2005 expedition

There were few luxuries in the forest camp for the November-December 2005 expedition of the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Program.

Stephen Richards

Atop Indonesia's isolated Foja Mountains is a mist-shrouded lost world, a paradise so rich with wildlife that finding new species is almost too easy.

In December 2005, a team of Indonesian, American and Australian scientists explored the territory on Papua, Indonesia's easternmost province, found on the tropical island of New Guinea.

Bruce Beehler, vice president of the Melanesia Program at Conservation International, describes the two-week adventure in a conversation with Alex Chadwick.

Only 10 minutes into his trip, Beehler describes spotting a honeyeater — for Australia and New Guinea, a fairly common bird — but fellow scientists noted some unique features on the bird. "And then suddenly I woke up and saw that it was a new species," Beehler says. "That's something we've never seen before. So that was pretty darned exciting."

Beehler has done field research in many tropical rain forests, but says he was constantly surprised to spot species of animals that in other parts of the island were hunted out and rare. And the volume of the birdsong was another surprise. "I've never been to a place where we've surveyed more birds in such a short period of time," he says.

Apart from the new species, Beehler and his fellow scientists also rediscovered a species first described in the Victorian era — the Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, or Parotia berlepschi. The bird earns its name for the wire-like whiskers sprouting from its head.

And then there's the architect of the forest: the golden-fronted bowerbird. The male of the species painstakingly builds a "tower of love" to attract a mate, with a tree sapling acting as foundation for an elaborate home constructed of sticks embedded with moss, fruit and other "ornaments." And at the base of the saplings is a moss "runway" where the male does a dance to further convince a female he's a suitable mate.

Beehler says the Indonesian government has already designated the region a wildlife sanctuary. His group, Conservation International, is already working with government officials and the people within the greater Mamboramo Basin, which includes the Foja Mountains, to preserve the area's incredibly diverse wildlife.

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