Huon tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei)

Also known as: Matschie’s tree-kangaroo
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyMacropodidae
GenusDendrolagus (1)
SizeHead-and-body length: 50 – 76 cm (2)
Weight6 – 13 kg (3)

Classified as Endangered (EN A1ac) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1).

The Huon tree kangaroo is an unusual-looking marsupial of New Guinea (2)which is characterised by a number of adaptations specific to its arboreal lifestyle (3). The species has a small, stocky body, with powerful forelimbs and hindlimbs of almost equal proportions, and a long, cylindrical tail used for balance while leaping among the branches (2) (3). The feet are shorter and broader than those of ground kangaroos, and have padded, roughened soles to aid with gripping, and curved claws for climbing (2) (3). The thick, dense fur grows in opposite directions on the back and nape of the neck, enabling water to easily run off the body (2) (3). The coat is a beautifully-coloured red to mahogany-brown on the back, with bright yellow fur on the limbs, feet, tail, underside, and ear edges (3) (4). Their faces are yellow and white, and a distinctive dark stripe runs down the centre of the back (2) (3).

The Huon tree kangaroo is located exclusively on Huon Peninsula of Papua New Guinea and the nearby island of Umboi, where the species is thought to have been introduced (3).

Found amongst mountainous tropical rainforest and deciduous forest (2), at elevations between 1000 to 3000 m above sea level (3). The Huon tree kangaroo is an arboreal species that spends the majority of its time in the trees, but occasionally also comes down to the ground (2).

Huon tree kangaroos are solitary, with females having separate territories, and males having territories that overlap those of several females, with a larger territory increasing their breeding opportunities (3). Breeding occurs year-round, although lower mating rates have been recorded from October to March in captivity (2) (3). Gestation lasts 39 to 45 days, which is the longest of any known marsupial, after which the single joey crawls into the mother’s pouch, where it firmly attaches to one of four nipples for 90-100 days (3). At around 300 days, the joey first ventures out of the pouch but will continue to return to nurse, and at 350 days it is fully independent of the pouch (2) (5). After weaning, the young tree kangaroo will leave its mother to establish its own territory (5). Sexual maturity is obtained at 2 years of age, and individuals are known to have lived as long as 14 years in captivity (3).

The Huon tree kangaroo is almost exclusively folivorous, preferring mature leaves, and has the large sacculated stomach typical of the macropod family, which aids the breakdown and digestion of tough leafy material (3). The diet is also supplemented, however, by wild fruits, flowers, nuts, bark, sap, insects, bird eggs and young birds (2) (3).

These tree kangaroos are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction from logging, mining and oil operations (4) (5). Hunting pressure is high in many of the remaining forested areas, with Huon tree kangaroos hunted primarily by natives of Papua New Guinea for their succulent meat. Although traditionally hunted by people with dingoes, which had relatively little impact on populations, the introduction of guns to the island has dramatically increased the numbers that can be caught and severely jeopardised the future of this species (2).

The main focus of conservation efforts for this species has been on captive-breeding programmes, with individuals held at a number of zoos worldwide (2). Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle is a leader in captive breeding and reproduction research on the Huon tree kangaroo, being the first to recognize the importance of isolating females after mating to reduce stress on the mother and increase infant survival rates (5). A Species Survival Plan has also been developed by international zoos for this species, which focuses on field studies and preserving the species’ natural habitat, whilst at the same time maintaining and studying a large captive population and stressing the need for education on the detrimental effects of forest destruction and hunting (3). It is vital that such education awareness campaigns are directed towards local people and government officials alike if the decline of this beautiful, unusual species is to be halted.

For more information on the Huon tree kangaroo see:

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 (January, 2006)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Animals: The Animal Information Centre (February, 2006)
    http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/animals1/kangaroo/matschie.html
  3. Animal Diversity Web (February, 2006)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/
  4. Kangaroos.org (February, 2006)
    http://kangaroos.org/tree-kangaroo.htm
  5. Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle (February, 2006)
    http://www.zoo.org/educate/fact_sheets/roo/treeroo.htm