The BBC takes the world into the crater of an extinct volcano in PNG and unearths a hidden trove of animal life. SINCLAIRE SOLOMON reports
PAPUA New Guinea’s own untouched Galapagos secret world attracted much world attention this month because of the weird and wonderful creatures that have been “discovered” after 200,000 years of isolation.
First, there was the announcement of a rat, which has no fear of humans, measures 82cm long, placing it among the largest species of rat known anywhere in the world. This was followed by the announcement that the world’s smallest parrot has been filmed in the wild for the first time.
Like the Galapagos Islands of the Charles Darwin fame, our very own isolated animal world – in the remote Mt Bosavi area of Southern Highlands province – has unearthed unseen species of life, including giant rats and fanged frogs inside an extinct volcanic crater.
Mt Bosavi’s unique species of fauna and flora, notably the Bosavi Giant Rat, will be featured on BBC1 television, one of the world’s biggest television network, on Sept 22 as part of the network’s The Lost Land of the Volcano series which started last week Tuesday.
From what is available on the internet this week, the BBC sent a team of explorers along to investigate the inner crater of Mt Bosavi, a volcano thought not to have erupted for about 200,000 years.
Inside the crater the environment has been protected from large predators and the inhabitants have been left follow their own unique pattern of evolution, not too differently from the animals and birds of the volcanic Galapagos Islands on the opposite end of the Pacific Ocean.The BBC said on its website that heading the expedition, sent to film the wildlife documentary for the BBC was naturalist Steve Buckshall, wildlife cameraman and naturalist Gordon Buchanan and head scientist Dr George McGavin.
The Bosavi Woolly Rat was first captured on film on a remote camera set up by Buchanan. It was then later seen for the first time, in the flesh by a tracker who called over biologist Dr Kristofer Helgen and Gordon Buchanan. The rat has long silvery fur and measures 82cm long and weighs around 1.5kg.
Helgen said, “This is one of the world’s largest rats. It is a true rat related to the same kind you find in the city sewers – but a heck of a lot bigger.”
Traditional beliefs may have kept the locals away from the crater which is about 4km wide and 1km deep, on the Great Papuan Plateau, making it an ideal home for the rat and other creatures which, the BBC team found, were very tame.
Other amazing discoveries by the BBC team included many new frogs, including a fanged frog, and al ot of new insects, including jumping spiders and spiders camouflaged as lichen.
“Many bird species were found to be inhabiting the area, including a beautiful fruit dove with green wings and a red head and a striking red bird named the King Bird of Paradise,” the BBC said.
Part of the mountain, which rises more than 2,000m above the surrounding plain, is included in the Sulamesi Wildlife Management Area, set up in 2006, formed part of the proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kikori River Basin/Great Papuan Plateau.
The people living just north of the mountain refer to themselves as Bosavi kalu (people of Bosavi) and divide into four marked groups.
The international WWF is heavily involved in the three major rainforest Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the area, protecting some of PNG’s most threatened wildlife habitat.
It supported the Bosavi people’s efforts in protecting their land and heritage for future generations.
Together with the Department of Environment and Conservation it acknowledges that the Kikori Basin has a variety of forest habitats that are home to some of PNG’s most threatened species, as well as dramatic landscape features that include the cockpit and needle karsts of the extensive Darai limestone, the remarkable Hegigio Gorge and the spectacular Wassi and Wawoi waterfalls.
WWF says that the animals of the region rank among the most spectacular found anywhere on earth and include the world’s longest lizard, largest pigeon, largest moth and one of the world’s largest butterflies. Rare species of plant-life can also be found here, and recently WWF reported that eight new species of orchid had been discovered in the area with around 20 further species are being verified.
In the BBC documentary, the team is based at the foot of Mt Bosavi and with the help of local trackers they searched for the animals that live there, and they make their amazing finds, including the nest of the world’s smallest parrot, and types of frog, gecko and bat that are completely new to science.
“Series combining stunning wildlife with high-octane adventure, as a team of scientists and wildlife filmmakers from the BBC’s Natural History Unit explores one of the last great unspoilt jungle wildernesses on earth,” said one rave preview in the English media.
“Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan discovers the nest of the world’s smallest parrot, insect expert Dr George McGavin finds a talking beetle, the scientists identify types of frog, gecko and bat that are completely new to science, and adventurer Steve Backshall has to live and sleep underground as he explores a cave system flooded with white water.
“The cameras follow the team every sweaty step of the way as they search for the evidence that may help preserve this last great jungle forever,” said the preview.