It's hard to imagine there are still new frontiers on earth -- places untouched by man. So when a group of scientists found such a spot two years ago and made news around the world with the discovery of dozens of new species, 60 Minutes took notice. And when the scientists described the mountain rain forest on the Indonesian side of New Guinea as a sort of "Garden of Eden," it sounded like a good story for us.
It's about as far as you can get from civilization, or, for that matter, from anywhere. But as correspondent Bob Simon found out, getting there was half the fun.
After a 20-hour flight to Jakarta, Indonesia, followed by a seven-hour plane ride to New Guinea, Simon and the team had concluded the easy part of the trip. They then boarded a single-engine plane with Bruce Beehler, the lead scientist from "Conservation International," which stirred the world with its discoveries in 2005. After an hour in the air, they were looking for a grass runway.
We hopped out, said goodbye to the helicopter, and hoped it would come back in 10 days as promised. We were now closed off from the outside world.
"We're about as far away from home as you can get," Beehler explained. "We’re basically at the edge of the Earth, as we would know it."
There's no sign of human activity, there are no footprints, no trails, and no Coke cans. There are no sounds except for the sounds of birds.
Only a handful of humans are known to have walked this ground. Beehler had been there once before. He had always wondered what might be hidden in this forest. But it took him 24 years of begging before the Indonesian government would let him set foot there. To help us set up a camp, we brought a few villagers from Papasena.
Beehler was already wearing his binoculars. "I’m looking for new birds. Or old birds that I saw the last time but that only live here," he said. "No place on Earth except the Foja Mountains."
In 2005, Beehler and his fellow scientists needed only 10 minutes to find their first new species, an odd looking bird. It didn't take Simon and the group much longer to spot it as well.
A new species of bird needs a new name, and Beehler had a quirky solution. "Well, I've got a wife," he explained, laughing. "And I thought, 'Wouldn’t it be nice to name it after her?' So I named it after Carol. Melipotes carolae. It actually has an English name, too. That's the Wattled Smoky Honey Eater."