Kangaroo, Matschie's Tree

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Kangaroo, Matschie's tree

Dendrolagus Matschie

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Diprotodontia

family: Macropodidae

status: Endangered, IUCN

range: Papua New Guinea

Description and biology

Matschie's tree kangaroo, also known as Huon tree kangaroo, is a marsupial (marsupial young are born undeveloped and are initially carried in a pouch on the outside of their mothers' body) in the Macropodidae family, which consists of more than fifty kinds of kangaroos. It is one of ten kinds of tree kangaroos, all living in Australia and nearby islands. The Matschie's tree kangaroo is usually about 20 to 35 inches (51 to 90 centimeters) long in its head and body; its large tail is 16 to 37 inches (41 to 94 centimeters) long. Females are slightly larger than males, with females weighing about 17 pounds (8 kilograms) and males about 15 pounds (7 kilograms). Their coats are usually reddish brown or dark brown, but their belly, face, part of their tail, and feet are yellow. Fur on their necks and backs grows in an opposite direction to the rest of their fur, allowing the kangaroo to shed rain when it gets into the right position.

Matschie's tree kangaroos are arboreal (they live in trees) and nocturnal (they are active mainly at night and sleep during the day). Their bodies are similar to those of other kinds of kangaroos, except they are designed for getting around in trees. Unlike ground kangaroos, their hind limbs are the same length as their front limbs, and the front limbs are big and strong for tree climbing. They have large feet with pads that keep them from slipping on wet branches, and a long heavy tail that helps them to balance their weight. They have long claws, and their feet can turn sideways in order to grasp branches. Matschie's tree kangaroos are capable of jumping long distances—up to 30 or 40 feet—but they generally climb up and down trees slowly and carefully. Their large eyes aid in judging distances when they leap from branch to branch. Their diet consists of leaves and fruit.

Matschie's tree kangaroos are solitary animals. Each individual lives within its own home range, but a male's home range may overlap several females' home ranges. They mate throughout the year. The female gives birth to one offspring after a 35- to 45-day gestation (pregnancy) period. The "joey," or newborn infant, unformed and only about an inch long, nurses in the pouch for about 350 days as it develops and then stays with its mother until it is about a year and a half old. The life span of a Matschie's tree kangaroo is thought to be about 14 years.


How can scientists know so much about animals that are difficult or impossible to observe in the wild? Conservationists studying the Matschie's tree kangaroo use a variety of scientific and research methods to obtain data. One of the methods used to understand the population—how many, where, how dense—is called distance sampling. First, the researchers locate Matschie's tree kangaroo dung (excrement) and record the distances between specimens and measure how much they find. They can then determine an estimated population density (how many animals exist within a measured area) by using statistics, a form of math in which numbers are collected, analyzed, and interpreted. Animal dung is also used in the lab in genetic studies (biological studies dealing with heredity and the variation among living things). Through modern procedures the dung samples can be used to identify individual animals in a region and to learn about the size of their home ranges. Another method of studying the animals is to set up remotely triggered cameras along animal trails to record their patterns. In addition, the scientists interview local people about their experiences with Matschie's tree kangaroos to learn about things like their history in the area and their eating habits. Further studies include a survey of the biodiversity (the variety of all life forms) in the Huon peninsula, and habitat mapping, which can provide geographical information on the best spots for conservation.

Habitat and current distribution

Matschie's tree kangaroos live in mountainous tropical rain forest areas in the Huon Peninsula in eastern Papua New Guinea and in the island of Umboi and the western tip of New Britain Island, both off Papua New Guinea. It is estimated that there are about 1,400 animals in the wild. Because

Matschie's tree kangaroos live in inaccessible places, scientific study of the species is difficult and not very advanced.

History and conservation measures

Matschie's tree kangaroos are hunted by the people of Papua New Guinea for their meat and fur. Hunters in the past used dingos (Australian wild dogs) to locate tree kangaroos by their scent and then to pull them out of the trees. When guns were introduced in Papua New Guinea, hunters became much more efficient, and the population of Matschie's tree kangaroos began to decline. At the same time, the species is threatened by the destruction of its habitat in the Huon Peninsula due to logging, mineral and oil exploration, and farming. Because the Matschie's tree kangaroo only lives in this one unique area, its chances of survival are very slim unless this habitat is preserved. Papua New Guinea's traditional communities control the use and management of the nation's natural resources.

In 1996, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) formed to promote the management and protection of tree kangaroos and their habitat while at the same time working to meet the needs of the local people. Since conservation (protection of the natural world) depends on educating the traditional landowners about the value of biodiversity (the variety of forms of life on Earth) and the need to use sustainable development practices (methods of farming or building communities that do not deplete or damage the natural resources of an area), the program has focused on education. It has been very successful. By the end of December 2001, 50,000 acres (20,250 hectares) of land had been pledged by local land owners to establish a wildlife management area, and the TKCP expects to increase this area to 150,000 acres (60,725 hectares) in the near future.