Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo, Dendrolagus matschiei

Matschie’s tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) is a marsupial that is only found on the Huon Peninsula of northeastern New Guinea. Its other common name, the Huon tree-kangaroo, is derived from its restricted location, although it does appear on the neighboring island of Umboi where it is thought to have been introduced. This species prefers to reside in tropical rainforests or deciduous forests and is typically found in northeastern areas of the island.

Matschie’s tree-kangaroo can reach an average body length between twenty and thirty-two inches with a weight that varies depending upon the sex. Males weigh between twenty and twenty-five pounds, while females weigh between fifteen and twenty pounds. Its underbelly, ears, lower legs, and tail are typically gold in color, while the rest of the body is typically dark brown in color. Most individuals have a dark stripe that extends down the back. The face of this species is yellow and white in color and its ears resemble those of a bear. The feet of Matschie’s tree-kangaroo are built for climbing. The front paws are equipped with sharp claws while the hind paws have soft pads and it is able to move its digits with some dexterity. The long tail of this species is almost the same size as its body, which aides in balance.

Matschie’s tree-kangaroo is typically solitary but can be found in small groups consisting of one male, female, and joey. Each individual or group will hold a territory of about sixty-one acres, which is vigorously defended. This species will spend between fourteen and fifteen hours per day sleeping or resting, occasionally descending from the trees to eat, where it can hop about thirty feet. It does not sweat to regulate its temperature, instead licking its body to remain cool, and it is able to maintain a stable body temperature using its metabolic rate.

The diet of Matschie’s tree-kangaroo consists mainly of leaves, insects, flowers, nuts, and sap. In captivity, the species will eat a number of plants including carrots, yams, potatoes, lettuce, and bananas and it was also found to eat chicken and hard boiled eggs. Because the diet of this species is so high in fiber, it typically eats only one to two hours per day and spends the rest of its time seeping and digesting its food.

Matschie’s tree-kangaroo is thought to breed year round in the wild and in captivity. In captivity, females initiate a courtship ritual by sniffing a male’s nose. Both males and females will emit clicking noises while touching each other’s noses, and then the male will attempt to mount the female. Females are not typically receptive to mating, hissing and swatting at the male, but after about ten minutes, she will allow the male to mount her and mate for about an hour. Pregnancy lasts about forty-five days, which is longest recorded period for marsupial species, after which time one joey is born within its mother’s pouch. Joeys will emerge from the pouch at about twenty-two weeks of age, but will not venture outside of it until twenty-eight weeks of age. Joeys will leave their mother’s pouches at about forty-one weeks of age and females can breed again five days after this. Both males and females can breed between two or two and half years of age.

The main threats to Matschie’s tree-kangaroo include habitat destruction logging, oil drilling, and hunting. Some villagers, like those in Yawan, are active in the conservation of the species, setting aside about 100,000 acres for a protected area. Fortunately, this species thrives in captivity, with fifty-three now living in North American zoos, although this number has decreased from ninety in 1997. In 1991, the Tree Kangaroo Species Survival Plan (TK-SSP) was created to maintain the species and in 1993, the K-SSP Master Plan was added to bolster this protection. Education programs have been initiated in schools by Lisa Dabek, an expert who has worked with other scientists to collar tag wild individuals, which helps them understand the habitat preferences and home ranges of the species.

The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, which began in Papua New Guinea and is currently located in Seattle, Washington at the Woodland Park Zoo, is a program that was designed to study and help endangered tree-kangaroos. Cooperating with Conservation International, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program has been able to implement educational programs in areas where tree-kangaroos are endemic. Breeding programs have been established at the Woodland Park Zoo and other areas and a Species Survival Plan has been initiated for many of these facilities. In addition to the 100,000 acre protected area created by Yawan villagers, the YUS Conservation Area was established in 2009 holding about 293 square miles of protected habitat and three rivers. The names of these rivers, the Yopno, Uruwa, and Som, comprise the “YUS” part of the area’s name. Matschie’s tree-kangaroo currently appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”

Image Caption: Matschie’s Tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus matschiei). Bronx Zoo, New York City. Credit: Postdlf/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)