Vogelkop Tree-kangaroo (Flannery et al, 1996: 102-103)

Vogelkop Tree-kangaroo

Dendrolagus ursinus
(Temminck, 1836)

[It] also ate rice, bread and vegetables, climbing often on the knees of the guests at dinner time, begging for food. The animal was a nice pet; Mr Bischoff's dogs were its playmates ...

-- F.W. Rappard, reporting on Mr Bischoff's pet tree-kangaroo, which lived at Manokwari, Dutch New Guinea, during the 1950s.

THE VOGELKOP TREE-KANGAROO was the first tree-kangaroo to receive a scientific name. Subsequently, though, it was neglected by researchers, and as a result very little is known about it. No adult has ever been weighed, and even its taxonomy is confused. Some researchers argue that two distinct forms exist: one with red cheeks, the other with white; while others suggest that these are just two colour forms of the one species. Until detailed field studies are undertaken, and further material is deposited in museum collections, these matters are unlikely to be clarified.

The long-tufted ears of the Vogelkop Tree-kangaroo are unique in the genus. The tail is long and black, and often bears a white tip. The back is covered in long black fur and its belly is a dirty brownish colour. The face is pale tan, and the cheeks are either reddish or white.

The Vogelkop Tree-kangaroo is a member of the short-footed group of tree-kangaroos, yet it is so different from the remaining species that it merits placement in a subgroup of its own. It is, in several ways, the least specialised member of the group.

It has been reported as having an extraordinary elevational range, from sea-level to high mossy forest. Following extensive work in Irian Jaya, however, I have begun to doubt whether it occurs in the lowlands. There is a report of it from seasonally dry lowland rainforest, but this is based upon a sighting only and may be erroneous. It certainly occurs at middle elevations (about 1000 metres) up to extremely mossy upper montane forest in which podocarps were abundant. It has a limited geographic distribution, occurring only on the Vogelkop and Fak Fak Peninsulas of far western New Guinea. During fieldwork in early 1996, I located the westernmost population of this species, in mountains which rise to about 1000 metres elevation on the western shore of Etna Bay on the Bird's Neck. Local hunters in the area were unanimous that the species occurred no further east. Thus, the lowlands around Etna Bay form an effective barrier to it.

Old accounts suggest that it may eat considerable quantities of fruit. If this is so, then it is unusual in its genus, most members of which are leaf-eaters.

While working in the Arfak Mountains in 1992, I kept a subadult male for several days. It was a friendly animal, which ate a wide variety of plant food. It urinated infrequently, but in large volume, exposing our equipment to considerable risk of inundation.

page 102 - 103

Information reproduced from Tree Kangaroos: A Curious Natural History, Melbourne: Reed Books Australia.
© Copyright by Timothy Fridtjof Flannery, Roger Martin, Alexandra Szalay. Illustrations Copyright by Peter Schouten, 1996.
HTML version produced with permission for Papuaweb, 2004.