email a friend iconprinter friendly iconFoja Mountains
Page [ 3 ] of 5

Brother Henk was back for the second RAP expedition to the Fojas in November 2008, and thanks to donations from team members, he did not spend the entire three weeks in a single set of clothes. It was a good thing too, because the torrential rain meant that even those with plenty of clothing spent much of their time with sodden shirts, damp pants, and squishy socks.

The rain, of course, fuels the forest's rich life, manifested in part by lush mosses, ferns, and other epiphytes—plants that grow on other plants—covering tree trunks and limbs. High enough in elevation to be above malarial mosquitoes and known poisonous snakes, residents of the aptly named Bog Camp saw their major threat in falling branches, as epiphytic vegetation soaked up water and stressed limbs, which cracked with the staccato of artillery fire.

Among the dozen or so tents at Bog Camp was a large yellow one that served as a makeshift laboratory, where expedition biologists preserved skins, skeletons, whole animals, and bits of tissue to be taken away for later study and DNA analysis. Here, Kristofer Helgen and Christopher Milensky of the Smithsonian Institution prepared, respectively, mammal and bird specimens, and Australian Paul Oliver worked on frogs and lizards. Ornithologist Ed Scholes of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology carried video and audio recorders along forest paths, documenting rare birds of paradise. Botanist Asep Sadili of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, which cosponsored the expedition, collected plants from a study site near camp.

Team members captured animals in various traps and nets and, in some instances, by hand (especially in the case of frogs found by headlamp light on night walks). Many of the larger birds and mammals were brought in by men from a village in the Foja foothills who guided biologists, helped with camp chores, and demonstrated time and again their near-magical knowledge of the ways of the forest.

On the second day of the expedition, three of the hunters returned from a walk carrying a dwarf cassowary, freshly shot with bow and arrow. Though Milensky coveted the three-foot-tall bird, the local men had other ideas, and soon the air was filled with the smell of roasted cassowary. Milensky salvaged the bones. As he laboriously cleaned a femur, he declared, "This may be the first wild-caught specimen for any museum in the past hundred years."

Page [ 3 ] of 5