Michael scurried through the branches of Indonesia with his camera in hand; he was on an adventure to find amazing botanical orchids. As he crept his way forward through the dense forest, he heard a shuffling 90 feet above his head. He saw a brown figure looming in the branches of a tree and started taking pictures, little did he know, he was just about to photograph the first sighting of an animal who had been extinct for almost 100 years.
West Papua, Indonesia, is known for its diverse species of flowers. It is also characterized by dramatic topography, dense, lush forests, teeming coral reefs, and extraordinary ethnic diversity. Michael Smith knew that this was the place to be if he wanted to discover beautiful plants, but never would he have expected to find something so elusive.
Amateur Naturalist Michael Smith was on a two-week trip in the Indonesian province when he photographed something remarkable. He had planned this trip in advance after he had visited West Papua previously and was completely amazed by the dense rainforests and captivating botanical life living there. Still, nothing could have prepared him for what was lurking in the tree.
Michael Smith, 47, from the United Kingdom is an amateur botanist who drove an expedition into the dense woodlands and impenetrable bamboo forests which are about 5,000 feet high in the remote Wondiwoi Mountains of West Papua. This was not the first time he had discovered something unusual, but an extinct animal? No one could have seen that happening.
Michael has enjoyed numerous trekking trips in remote parts of Pakistan, Kurdistan, and Indonesia in hopes of finding rare orchids, rhododendrons, and tulips. In 2015 he found a new species of a tulip in Kurdistan, and now, he had made two complete new discoveries. But as he snapped the picture he was not sure what he had just captured.
Michael led this expedition to locate uncommon species. He is trained as a biologist and he now works for a medical communications company, but his real love is finding unusual flowers in unusual places. With a camera in hand, he started his trek. As he went deeper and deeper into the forest. he snapped a picture that would change his life forever.
Animals are known to go extinct for numerous reasons. They are so many animals that are already extinct and endangered, but what are the possibilities of encountering one that has not been seen in 100 years? Pretty slim. But what if these extinct animals are just thought to be extinct, but are hiding in places where its impossible for humans to go?
Michael started his trek with his crew; his guide, interpreter and porters. They all knew the area pretty well and were sure that, with their help, Michael would be able to capture something remarkable. They had spent several days tracking wildlife and incredible plants and flowers that only grew in the region, but on the last day of their trek something startled them, and as they looked up, shivers immediately went up and down their spines.
Korowai Tree House, West Papua, Indonesia
On the final day of their adventure, they wandered through the rainforest and stopped at a rare orchid. But as they did, they heard a rattle above them. They all looked up and saw a brown ominous figure lurking and staring at them. Michael took out his camera and zoomed in, but what he saw didn't make sense. He took the picture and showed his crew. It couldn't be, could it?
He viewed his picture in disbelief. He had heard tales of the elusive and extinct Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos that had lived in this area, but still, these animals had gone extinct over 100 years ago! Michael Smith told The Mail: ‘I was thinking to myself I have to be careful here and not fool myself, but I went through my mental checklist of their features and realized, “Hang on, this has got to be the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo. I felt like Captain Ahab if he had got photos of Moby Dick."
The Wondiwoi tree kangaroo is one of only 17 known species and sub-species of tree-dwelling kangaroos. The last known sighting of this animal was in 1928, and from then on it had disappeared -- fooling everyone into believing that it had become extinct. But still, was this really the Wondiwoi?
Zoologist Tim Flannery, who has discovered four of the 15 living species of tree kangaroo and has written the definitive book, Tree Kangaroos: A Curious Natural History, said: ‘This is definitely the Wondiwoi. Everything in the pictures is consistent with the only known specimen. It is an extremely significant find. I was amazed when I saw the photographs. I believe it has gone unspotted for so long because it is restricted to a single, small mountain range.’
Michael and his crew could not believe they had not only seen the animal but had captured a photograph! If not, no one would have believed that this was indeed the Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroo! The photographs that Michael captured had experts shocked -- they were convinced that he may have captured the first pictures of a Wondiwoi tree kangaroo in 90 years.
The astounding photograph has been sent to be identified by many experts. Still, they can not believe this incredible discovery. Michael Smith reached out to a series of experts, including Australian Museum biologist Mark Eldridge and Roger Martin of Australia’s James Cook University, to confirm his suspicions before announcing them to the public. Pickrell said that the Wondiwoi mountain range is “such a remote and difficult spot to access” that he was unsure whether scientists would ever find another member of the species. Martin seconds the sentiment, “Only an intrepid Pom [Brit] in pursuit of rhododendrons would have persevered.”
Michael, having visited the same location last year was aware of stories about the elusive Wondiwoi tree kangaroo of Indonesia, a rare species of marsupial that had last been seen in 1928 and was feared to be extinct. But he had no idea that he would one day encounter such an amazing animal thought to have died out so many years ago.
Dr. Mark Eldridge said; ‘In this locality, it is unlikely to be anything else. It is not often that an animal not seen for decades is rediscovered. Hopefully, it means we can learn more about this tree kangaroo, and ensure it is protected.’ But Michael Smith had a better idea.
Michael is planning to visit the same location to get more information about the elusive animal. He plans to apply for permits to allow him to bring back fecal samples, which experts have already offered to DNA-match with the 1928 skeleton currently housed at London’s Natural History Museum.
Micheal suggested that this animal might not be completely extinct, but it is well on its way. It is indeed incredible that no one has spotted this animal for so long, but still, not a lot of people have trekked the rainforest as he did with his crew. Anyway, the Wondiwoi may not be extinct but it is endangered, and they will need a lot of help for them to not become another extinct animal.
The incredible finding of this "extinct" animal has really set things in motion. There are a lot of animals who have been listed as extinct that may not be, they just have not been found. Even though experts don't want to bother these animals in their habitat and spook them off, there is still a lot of intrigue surrounding this subject. One thing is for sure, if they know an animal still lives, they can help preserve them.
Michael, a once amateur botanist and trekker had just undiscovered an animal who was thought to be extinct for 100 years. Even though his love and passion lies within the discovery of flowers and plants, it is fair to say that this expedition will be kept close to his heart. He will ensure the wellbeing of these animals and will re-visit the woodlands and get DNA samples in the near future.