Paraguayan expedition abandoned

The Natural History Museum has finally bowed to the inevitable and abandoned plans for its controversial field trip to study wildlife in the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay.

The Chaco, known as the green hell, covers a vast area of dry virtually impenetrable forest straddling the borders of Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay. It is one of the least hospitable but most biologically diverse places on earth and home to thousands of plant and and animal species previously unknown to science.

The expedition - the biggest mounted by the Museum's ecologists for 50 years - had hoped to document much of that diversity, but ran into difficulties last year when human rights activists protested that the researchers might stumble across previously uncontacted tribes.

The project was put on hold in November when the Ministry for the Environment in Paraguay announced it planned to hold further talks with representatives of the indigenous Ayoreo people - a process of engagement the museum fully endorsed.

But as the months have dragged by the Museum has had to think again, and in a statement issued today the interim director of science, Professor Phil Rainbow, reluctantly conceded defeat.

"The Museum remains keen to explore the biodiversity of Paraguay with our Paraguayan partners, but cannot hold last year's funds indefinitely. The Natural History Museum has now had to reallocate the funding reserved for the project and we plan to invest the funds in other fieldwork."

It's a bitter blow for the museum, and for the plants and animals of the Gran Chaco, which is threatened by illegal logging and forest clearance for agriculture.

Professor Rainbow added, "We believe that a survey to scientifically record the richness and diversity of the animals and plants in this remote region is fundamental to the future management of this fragile habitat."