December 18, 2007 in Nation/World

Scientists discover giant rat

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

In this undated photo released by Conservation International, Martua Sinaga holds a 1.4 kilogram giant rat that is probably a new species to science in Indonesia’s Foja mountains. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Researchers in a remote Indonesian jungle have discovered a giant rat that is about five times the size of a typical city rat, and a tiny opossum, scientists said Monday.

Unearthing new species of mammals in the 21st century is considered very rare. The discoveries by a team of American and Indonesian scientists are being studied further to confirm their status.

The animals were found in the Foja mountains rainforest in eastern Papua province in a June expedition, said U.S.-based Conservation International, which organized the trip in the Southeast Asian nation along with the Indonesian Institute of Science.

“The giant rat is about five times the size of a typical city rat,” said Kristofer Helgen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. “With no fear of humans, it apparently came into the camp several times during the trip.”

The opossum was described as “one of the world’s smallest marsupials.”

A 2006 expedition to the same stretch of jungle – dubbed by Conservation International as a “Lost World” because until then humans had rarely visited it – unearthed scores of exotic new species of butterflies and palms.

Papua has some of the world’s largest tracts of rainforest, but like elsewhere in Indonesia they are being ravaged by illegal logging. Scientists said last year that the Foja area was not under immediate threat, largely because it was so remote.

“It’s comforting to know that there is a place on Earth so isolated that it remains the absolute realm of wild nature,” said expedition leader Bruce Beehler.

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