December 18, 2007 / 12:09 AM / 10 years ago

More to find in Indonesia's "Lost World"

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Many more species are probably yet to be found in pristine jungle in Indonesia’s Papua province, where two mammals believed to be new to science were discovered in June, an Indonesian zoologist and a conservationist said.

<p>A Cercartetus pygmy possum, one of the world's smallest marsupials, is seen in the Foja Mountains in Indonesia's Papua province in this undated handout photo released to Reuters December 18, 2007. Scientists believe they have found two new undocumented mammals -- a pygmy possum and a giant rat -- in the jungles of the remote mountain range, a conservation group said. REUTERS/Conservation International/Bruce M Behhler/Handout</p>

Scientists found the two mammals -- a pygmy possum and a giant rat -- during an expedition involving Indonesian and American scientists in Papua’s Foja Mountains.

In late 2005 the same team discovered dozens of new plants and animals on their first trip to the region.

The Foja mountain range is part of the great Mamberamo Basin, the largest unroaded tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region, and has been described as a “Lost World” because of its deep isolation.

“Very few scientists have entered the area because of extremely difficult access. The likelihood of finding more new species is very high,” said Martua Sinaga, a zoologist from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences who took part in both expeditions.

Sinaga told Reuters the two-week expedition in June was part of project initiated by U.S.-based Conservation International and CBS television to film the region and its wildlife.

<p>Mammalogist Martua Sinaga holds a Mallomys giant rat that was found in the Foja Mountains in Indonesia's Papua province in this undated handout photo released to Reuters December 18, 2007. Scientists believe they have found two new undocumented mammals -- a pygmy possum and a giant rat -- in the jungles of the remote mountain range, a conservation group said. REUTERS/Conservation International/Bruce M Behhler/Handout</p>

Such scientific explorations are not a high priority for the Indonesian government because of funding constraints, he said.

“The appreciation is different at home. Here people react coolly to news of new species discoveries,” he said.

<p>An undated handout photo released to Reuters December 18, 2007 shows an aerial view of the Foja Mountains in Indonesia's Papua province. Scientists believe they have found two new undocumented mammals -- a pygmy possum and a giant rat -- in the jungles of the remote mountain range, a conservation group said. REUTERS/Conservation International/Bruce M Behhler/Handout</p>

Nev Kemp, a programme manager for Conservation International, said that there was “a lot more to discover” in the region.

“We’ve only done two survey, so a large number of habitats remain unexplored,” he told Reuters.

The area is 95 percent untouched and almost uninhabited by humans, he said.

With 42 million hectares (104 million acres) of tropical forests and some of the richest bio-diversity in the world, Papua is considered the country’s last rainforest frontier. But it is under threat from increased cutting and clearing for palm oil plantations as well as rampant illegal logging.

Reporting by Ahmad Pathoni and Adhityani Arga, editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson

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