Dingiso (Dendrolagus mbaiso)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyMacropodidae
GenusDendrolagus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 52 – 81 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 – 94 cm (2)
Weight6.5 – 14.5 kg (2)

The dingiso is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Discovered as recently as 1994, the dingiso (Dendrolagus mbaiso) is a tree kangaroo, a group of animals that, like their well-known relatives in Australia, have long tails, well-developed hindquarters and move both hindfeet at the same time in a distinctive gait (2) (3). However, unlike the kangaroos of Australia, tree kangaroos are, as their names suggests, adapted to living in trees. The soles of the dingiso’s large feet bear cushion-like pads covered with roughened skin which, in combination with the curved nails, provide proficient grip on tree trunks and branches (2). The long, furry tail helps the dingiso balance as it moves through the trees, as well as bracing the animal as it climbs (2). The fairly long fur of the dingiso is largely black, apart from distinct white markings on the underparts and face (2). Female dingisos can be easily distinguished by the presence of a pouch on the abdomen, where the young grow and develop as they suckle milk from one of the four mammae (2).

The scientific name of the dingiso is derived from two Greek words: dendron meaning tree and lagos meaning hare. The latter word came from European scientists in the 19th century who, whilst sailing through the region, tasted the flesh of a tree kangaroo and believed it to be reminiscent of the meat of hares (4).

The dingiso is known only from the Sudirman Mountains, a rugged range situated in Irian Jaya, the Indonesian part of New Guinea (2).

An inhabitant of mountainous rainforest, the dingiso occurs between 3,250 and 4,200 metres above sea level (2).

Due to the inaccessibility of New Guinea’s remote mountain forests (5), little is known about the biology and ecology of the dingiso. However, like other tree kangaroos, it is likely to be an agile animal, which can move quickly from tree to tree, leap as far as nine metres downwards to a neighbouring trunk, and jump to the ground from heights of 18 metres or more, without sustaining injury (2). Although primarily inhabitants of the trees, tree kangaroos are also comfortable on the ground. They descend tree trunks backwards, and move along the ground with small leaps (2). Active during both the day and night, tree kangaroos feeds on leaves and fruit, which they forage for in the trees and on the rainforest floor (2).

Like other tree kangaroos, the dingiso is likely to have no defined mating season and probably gives birth to a single young after a gestation period of around 32 days (2). In common with all macropods (the kangaroos and wallabies), tree kangaroos give birth to tiny and highly undeveloped young. The eyes, hindlimbs and tail are barely formed and only the forelimbs are sufficiently developed, allowing the hairless young to climb up its mother’s fur into the safety of her pouch. The pouch provides a warm, humid environment where the juvenile, unable to regulate its own temperature, attaches itself to one of its mother’s teats, and feeds on the nutritious milk as it grows and develops (3). In captivity, a young tree kangaroo emerged from its mother’s pouch after 305 days (2).

Local Moni tribesmen have described how when approached, the dingiso sits up, whistles and raises its paws as if greeting. Although thought by scientists to be a threat display, the Moni believed that the dingiso was the spirit of an ancestor who recognised them (5).

When Dr Tim Flannery discovered the dingiso in 1994, he gave it the scientific name mbaiso meaning ‘forbidden animal’ in the local Moni language. Although Moni tribesmen do not hunt the dingiso due to their belief that these are ancestral spirits, it was hoped that this name would deter neighbouring people, who do not hold these beliefs, from hunting this marsupial (5).

Sadly, whilst information relating specifically to the dingiso is lacking, tree kangaroos across New Guinea appear to be declining (4). Tree kangaroos are suffering from flourishing human populations and increased efficiency of hunters, aided by steel axes, bush knives, modern firearms and a rise in the number of roads by which they can access more remote forest (4). The low reproductive rate of tree kangaroos makes them highly vulnerable to a situation where the number of deaths due to hunting may outnumber births (4).

In addition to hunting, the tree kangaroos of New Guinea are threatened by deforestation and forest degradation. Although the rainforests of this vast island are not as devastated as elsewhere in Asia, logging is still highly destructive to the land’s biodiversity and this damaging industry continues to expand (4). Finally, global climate change may impact the montane forests in which the dingiso lives. A period of unprecedented dry weather in 1997 to 1998 resulted in huge areas of New Guinea forests being burnt, illustrating the significant effect climate change could have on the fauna and flora of these magnificent forests (4).

At present, there are no known conservation measures specifically in place for the dingiso. However, conservation organisations are working to protect and preserve the remarkable wildlife of New Guinea, such as WWF, which aims to promote responsible forestry and improved protected area management (6). As the Indonesian government does not have abundant resources to deal with conservation issues, it may be down to western nations to implement conservation initiatives for the dingiso and other fascinating tree kangaroos (4).

For further information on the conservation of tree kangaroos: 

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011 
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Martin, R. (2005) Tree-kangaroos of Australia and New Guinea. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
  5. Tidwell, J. (2007) High on Kangaroos. Zoogoer, 3(3): 1 - .
  6. WWF (September, 2008)
    http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/asia_pacific/our_solutions/new_guinea_forests/index.cfm