Interviews: Bruce Beehler's Lost World In December 2005, a team of Indonesian, American and Australian scientists studied the mist-shrouded "lost world" atop the isolated Foja Mountains of New Guinea. What they found was a haven for rare wildlife and a host of new species.
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Interviews: Bruce Beehler's Lost World

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Interviews: Bruce Beehler's Lost World

Interviews: Bruce Beehler's Lost World

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This is DAY TO DAY. From NPR News, I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Jakarta, Indonesia today an international group of scientists has announced the results of an expedition to the Pacific island of New Guinea, north of Australia. They've looked closely at an area that few humans have explored before, the Foja Mountains of Indonesia. Take a minute now and go to our Web site and you can see. There New Guinea is split in two with a Indonesian province of Papua on the West side, and the nation of Papua New Guinea on the East side. The island is teaming with life, and that's what drew Bruce Beehler there. He's vice president of the Melanesia Program at Conservation International. We spoke earlier for this National Geographic Radio Expedition's interview about what he found in Papua.

Mr. BRUCE BEEHLER (Vice President, Melanesia Center for Biodiversity Conservation): The base of these mountains is immensely rich with wildlife. It's less rich up in the top. So down where we were working around this little village called Kwarba(ph), the wildlife in the forest was remarkable. I've never been to any place like it.

CHADWICK: Well, so what's it like when you walk into this forest?

Mr. BEEHLER: You've been in some tropical rain forests. They tend to, you know, to the average person look more-or-less alike. They're dark, they're tall, they're just, you know, they're crazy with complexity, there are tree-falls, there's a lot of sound, a lot of crickets. Often you'll hear frogs during the day, and lots and lots and lots of birdsong. So in that respect they're typical of a New Guinea rain forest. But if you're walking, you know, on a trail cross country, headed up into the hills or something like that, what you find is you start bumping into wildlife right away. For instance, the world's largest pigeon, the Victoria Crown pigeon, size of a small turkey, you scare these up time after time. In other parts of New Guinea, those have been hunted out. You run into wallabies, lowland tree kangaroos. And also just the volume of the birdsong. I've never been to a place where we've surveyed more birds in such a short period of time.

CHADWICK: How long were you there in the mountains?

Mr. BEEHLER: We were up top only for two weeks.

CHADWICK: And in that time what did you find?

Mr. BEEHLER: Well, the first day we saw this new species of honey-eater bird, which is for Australia and New Guinea, it's sort of like the common sparrow group of birds. That's something we've never seen before, so that was pretty darn exciting.

CHADWICK: First day.

Mr. BEEHLER: First day. First ten minutes, how about that? Yeah, at that point we knew we were in a new spot that not too many people had been doing work.

CHADWICK: And in the next two weeks, what happened?

Mr. BEEHLER: Well, things happened fast and furious, frankly. The second day we were eating lunch in our camp in the forest and we heard a strange sound.

(Soundbite of rain forest recording)

CHADWICK: This is a recording you made.

Mr. BEEHLER: And I perked up, and on the entrance trail of our camp a male of a black-and-white six-wired bird of paradise appeared with a female and started to do his display on the ground right there in front of our camp. This is not something that happens every day in New Guinea, let me tell you. Well, even more remarkable is a bird we'd never seen.

CHADWICK: The six-wired bird of paradise?

Mr. BEEHLER: How about that.

CHADWICK: What does it look like?

Mr. BEEHLER: It's about the size of a robin, a bit chunky. Entirely encrusted with a sort of beautiful velvety feathers, some of which are black and some of which are white. Then it's got these six wires sticking out of the back of its head, two sets of three, one on each side. So it does a dance on the ground and it actually shoots these feathers forward in front of its head like antennae and waves them at the female to get her worked up.

CHADWICK: There's a particular bird, the bowerbird.


CHADWICK: This is an extraordinary bird. They build these huts. The males build these really elaborate huts in order to court the females and the, well, it's not so different from, I guess, some societies that we know in this country. The bigger and better the house, the more likely you are to attract a mate.

Mr. BEEHLER: Think of the Playboy mansion. This is a love hut. And in this case, the Foja Mountains are blessed with their own species, a so-called golden-fronted bowerbird. It was originally described in 1895 by specimens from an unknown locality in New Guinea, in Western New Guinea I should say. And it was 80 years before its homeland was discovered, and that was done by professor Jared Diamond of UCLA in 1979.

CHADWICK: And the bower itself, these can be really tall.

Mr. BEEHLER: It's a tower. It's built a tower of love, which is he finds a sapling in the forest and builds a stack of sticks around the sapling and then he embeds moss and other ornaments in it like insects, fruit, and the like. And around the base, which is about a meter in diameter, he builds a moss runway that he does his dance on. They call them maypole bowers.

CHADWICK: What about the Papuan people who live around there? Do they have plans for the area? Do you all have plans?

Mr. BEEHLER: Well, frankly, the Indonesian government has already made plans for the area. Good plans. Professor Diamond went there originally as part of some exploration work he did in order to design a national protected area system for Indonesia. He was working specifically on the Eastern-most province, that's Western New Guinea. Subsequently the government of Indonesia designated this particular mountain range, or a large chunk of it, as a wildlife sanctuary. So it already is nationally designated. On the other side, this area of Indonesia is poor. There are not a lot of resources. There has not been a lot of management or even delineation of this protected area. But at least we're moving in the right direction.

CHADWICK: So you're saying this area is likely to be protected from development or exploitation?

Mr. BEEHLER: Well, it all comes down to time. Conservation International is thinking for the long-term. So if you think in a longer timeframe, nothing is safe anywhere, so we have to be vigilant, and we have to be preparing and we have to be planning. And what we're doing there in this greater Mamboramo Basin, which includes the Foja Mountains, is working with the local people, the local government, the provincial government and the national government to develop a plan for these wonderful natural resources. Those are the rivers, the forests, the wildlife, and even these indigenous people who live there are really part of this environment, and I like to think of them as the forest stewards, people who are looking after these things.

CHADWICK: Bruce Beehler is Vice President of the Melanesia Program at Conservation International, back from an expedition to Papua. Bruce, thank you.

Mr. BEEHLER: Alex, thanks so much.

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