Golden-mantled Tree-kangaroo (Flannery et al, 1996: 108-109)

Golden-mantled Tree-kangaroo

Dendrolagus goodfellowi pulcherrimus
(Flannery, 1993)

There was once a tree-kangaroo at Sweipini that had a face just like you white men. We called it Weimanke. My father caught one when I was a little boy, but it is long gone now. The earthquake [of 1934] killed them all ...

-- Kaspar Seiko of Wilbeitei Village, Torricelli Mountains, Papua New Guinea, 1990.

THE DISCOVERY OF this most beautiful of tree-kangaroos was almost accidental. In 1988 I began a survey of Papua New Guinea's North Coast Ranges with Lester Seri, Veari Kula and Pavel German. Over the next five years we were to visit every major mountain peak in the region. As early as 1990 I heard stories from hunters in the Torricelli Mountains about a tree-kangaroo known as Weimanke. It was described as being like Goodfellow's Tree-kangaroo (from photographs in a book), but with a white face. Only the oldest men in a few villages claimed to have seen one, and they only in their early youth. It seemed that whatever Weimanke was, it had been extinct in the region for about 60 years.

In 1990 Lester Seri and Pavel German travelled to Mt Sapau, the easternmost high peak in the entire Torricelli Mountains region. Hunters there told Lester and Pavel about an animal they knew as Weiman, which inhabited their forest. Soon after arriving, Lester became seriously ill with malaria and was hardly able to walk. Excited by their discovery, he refused to abort the trip, instead advising Pavel to trek into the mountains with some hunters in pursuit of proof of the animal's existence. After a week or so, Pavel returned with an extraordinary tree-kangaroo, and the honour of having been the first European ever to see Weiman.

The moment I saw the specimen I knew that it was the near-legendary Weimanke of the western Torricelli Mountains. I was also certain that it was a hitherto undiscovered species or subspecies of tree-kangaroo. Its pinkish face, almost sepia eyes, white ears and golden shoulders are highly distinctive. It has white rings on the tail, and parts of the back are a rich, almost burgundy colour.

The Golden-mantled Tree-kangaroo is the smallest member of the Goodfellow's Tree-kangaroo complex. The two specimens known (both female) weighed 7 and 7.1 kilograms. Both were without young when examined. All other aspects of its natural history remain mysterious.

Oral tradition suggests that it has become extinct over as much as 95 per cent of its distribution in the past 60 years. Today it may be restricted to as little as 20 square kilometres of habitat in the far east of its original distribution. It is thus the most critically endangered of all tree-kangaroos. We had hoped that hunting pressure on Mt Sapau was low. Ominously, one of the two individuals we collected was found to have a plastic shot-holder from a 12 gauge shotgun cartridge in its stomach. It had presumably ingested this object and was then unable to void it.

Occasionally, individuals are kept as pets in villages in the eastern Torricellis. If these could be collected together, they might form the nucleus of a captive breeding program. This remains perhaps the last hope of saving this beautiful tree-kangaroo.

page 108 - 109

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.