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Matschie’s tree kangaroo

Dendrolagus matschiei

Description: Matschie’s tree kangaroos are named after Paul Matschie, a German zoologist. They are chestnut to red brown in color, with bright yellow bellies, ear edges and feet. The eyes are large and the ears are small. Their faces are yellow and white and a dark stripe runs down the back. Their forearms are longer and stronger. But unlike primates, they do not have opposable thumbs. Nevertheless, they have dextrous forepaws: they can grasp stems in their fingers and have very flexible wrists. Their back legs and feet are short and broad with rough-textured pads and long, curved claws, to improve their grip. They do not have the much larger hind legs like other kangaroos. They descend from trees tail first. Tree kangaroos have a way of staying dry that kangaroos in arid regions lack. The fur on their neck and back grows in a reverse angle from the rest of their coat. When waiting out a rain shower in their typical fashion – crouching with their head lower than their shoulders – their backwards- growing fur sheds water and keeps them dry.

Size: Females, slightly larger than males, average approximately 17 pounds (8 kg); males about 15 pounds (7 kg). Head and body length is between 20-32 inches (51-81 cm). Tail length is 17-36 inches (43-91 cm).

Behavior: The literal meaning of genus Dendrolagus is “tree hare.” Long hind limbs typical of leaping kangaroos have been modified in tree kangaroos and are slightly shorter than their powerful forelegs. This gives tree kangaroos greater control and balance for climbing and moving through trees. They are extremely agile in trees, but not on the ground. If trapped up a tree, they will attempt to escape by leaping to the next tree. Unlike other kangaroos, tree kangaroos can move their hind legs independently of one another. Consisting of ten species, this is the only genus of the kangaroo family that climbs trees. It is believed that Matschie’s tree kangaroos are solitary animals. Females and males have non-overlapping home ranges but a male’s range will overlap the range of several females. Researchers also believe that Matschie’s tree kangaroos are polygamous and that males will interact with several females. Males, however, appear not to establish “harems,” and females remain independent. The only strong social bond these animals form is between mother and offspring. They sleep 60% of the day.

In captivity, Matschie’s tree kangaroos are somewhat social. Interactions include nose contact, grooming and chasing one another. Most interactions are initiated by a male toward a female and are usually associated with mating. Often the female will act defensively toward the male.

Diet: Tree kangaroos are browsers and 75-80% of their diet is leaves, buds and fruits, but they will also eat bird eggs and young birds.

Senses: Well-developed senses of vision, touch, smell and hearing.

Communication: Use visual displays, touch, some vocalizations and chemical cues.

Reproduction: The female gives birth to one offspring after a gestation period of 42-44 days, longest of any marsupial. After birth, the fetus-like young, about one inch (2.5 cm) at birth, crawls to a teat located inside the mother’s pouch where it attaches itself to nurse (lactation phase). The majority of the infant’s development occurs during lactation. It remains in the pouch for about 8-10 months. The mother will clean her pouch and groom the infant often during this phase. After the infant initially leaves the pouch (about 28 weeks), it will continue to return to the pouch to nurse. This “in and out” phase lasts for one or two months. During the final phase, the young still nurses but never climbs completely into the pouch. The young is weaned approximately one year after birth. After young Matschie’s tree kangaroos are weaned they will go off alone and establish a home range. Young Matschie’s tree kangaroos are called joeys.

Habitat/range: They can be found in mountainous rainforests at elevations of up to 6,562 feet (2,000 m). Matschie’s tree kangaroos live on the Huon Peninsula of northeastern New Guinea.

Status: They are hunted for meat and their habitat is being destroyed for logging, mining, agriculture and oil exploration. Listed by IUCN as Endangered. Included in AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP). This program cooperatively manages specific,
and typically threatened or endangered populations.