Leading article: Creature comforts

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The Independent Online

In an era in which mankind seems to have shoved its nose into just about every nook and cranny on the planet, to discover a new species of mammal is extraordinary. To discover two on the same trip is twice so. And that is precisely what scientists on a field trip in Indonesia have accomplished.

One of their finds is a giant rodent named the Mallomys rat. The species is five times the size of typical rat and exhibits no fear of humans. Apparently the creatures visited the scientists' camp several times. The second discovery is the "pygmy possum", which appears to be one of the world's smallest marsupials. Both beasts are entirely new to the world of science.

In the past, when travellers returned from distant lands with tales of fantastical and unlikely creatures, they sometimes had some trouble convincing the authorities back home of the veracity of their reports. Luckily, these modern-day explorers were accompanied by photographers from National Geographic and a camera crew from a US TV network.

The creatures were found in the vast Mamberamo Basin of Papua, the largest un-roaded tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. It has been described as a "lost world" and a "garden of Eden" on account of its stunning biodiversity. It had to be Indonesia really, the same part of the world in which the remains of an ancient "hobbit" relation of humanity were dug up four years ago on the island of Flores.

Giant rats, tiny humans: who needs Hollywood when we have National Geographic?

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