Matschies Tree-kangaroo (Flannery et al, 1996: 110-111)

Matschie's Tree-kangaroo

Dendrolagus matschiei
(Foster and Rothschild, 1907)

Specimens of this Tree-kangaroo kept alive in captivity would appear to undergo a very marked change in colour, the mahogany-coloured coat fading to a dull yellowish brown and the tail, limbs, and belly, bleaching to a yellowish white ...

-- Lord Walter Rothschild and Captain Guy Dollman, describing their specimens in 1936.

FOR MANY PEOPLE who visit zoos, Matschie's Tree-kangaroo surely typifies the genus, for it is the most widely exhibited and successfully maintained tree-kangaroo in zoological collections world-wide. It is also a delightful animal to display, for its brightly coloured chestnut and yellow facial and body markings make it most attractive.

In the wild, Matschie's Tree-kangaroo is confined to the mountains of the Huon Peninsula, the nearby island of Umboi, in Papua New Guinea, and Mt Agulupella in west New Britain. It was almost certainly introduced onto Umboi (which lies just off the Huon Peninsula) and New Britain by Melanesian voyagers in prehistoric times, as the fauna of these islands otherwise shows few similarities with that of the New Guinea mainland.

One of the most striking aspects of Matschie's Tree-kangaroo is that the face of every individual has a different pattern of white or yellow and brown patches. This makes individuals recognisable at a considerable distance. There is some suggestion that animals from the western parts of the Huon Peninsula have more white or yellow on the ears and face -- and are more strikingly coloured in general -- than those from the west. This, however, has yet to be confirmed.

Males and females are about the same size, averaging 8.9 kilograms in weight. They are basically solitary, at least in captivity, and it is difficult to raise young successfully unless females are isolated soon after giving birth. The gestation period is 45 days, which is, along with that of Timboyok (Dendrolagus goodfellowi buergersi), the longest recorded for any marsupial. The young first begin to poke out of the pouch at five and a half months, and have vacated the pouch entirely by 10 months of age. As with Timboyok, they accompany their mothers for only two to three months thereafter, which is a remarkably brief period for a tree-kangaroo. Females can produce one young per year, and can live to at least 14 years of age.

The lower slopes of the Huon Peninsula have already been largely cleared, the forest being replaced by gardens and grassland. Hunting pressure is high in many of the remaining forested areas, and Matschie's Tree-kangaroo has already been eliminated from some places. Despite this, healthy populations still persist in a few remote spots.

page 110 - 111

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.